DC mayor wants to restore cut funding for police in schools

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The vote to phase out police from schools came a year after mass protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd sparked calls across the country to rethink the approach to policing in communities and schools. Now many communities are reassessing whether cutting police funding was the right approach.

“We never agreed with the idea of ​​removing school resource officers from schools,” Bowser (D) said in an interview. “These are the same agents who show up every day in a building. Administrators know [them]. The children know him.

While the DC Council debated the role of police in schools, the provision to phase out officers was included in the sprawling $17.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2022 and did not pass. separately. This budget was adopted unanimously.

School resource officers are police officers trained to build relationships with students and manage issues that arise in schools. The Bowser administration says these officers are not on campus to arrest students, but to create a rapport with them so they can diffuse tensions better than an officer who is not trained to work with students. .

But last year, a council-appointed police reform commission recommended that the city remove police from schools, arguing that the presence of armed officers in schools creates a culture of fear and sustains violence. ‘order. Some city leaders have dismissed the commission’s findings, suggesting they reflect the views of activists and not those of the community.

The city employed 97 school resource officers who navigated between traditional public schools and charter schools last year. This year, there are 80 agents.

“Reducing police presence in schools is critical to protecting young people and prioritizing safe educational spaces, especially for students of color and students with disabilities,” reads a letter sent to the DC Council on Wednesday. during budget hearings and signed by 40 community groups seeking to abolish the police in local schools. “Black students are more likely to be arrested at school for normal teenage behavior than their white counterparts.

Councilman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) — who chairs the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and has pushed to phase out police in schools — did not say how he would handle the mayor’s proposal. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At Large), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) are among the council members who said they still believe elimination progressive policing in schools is the right approach. Council Speaker Phil Mendelson (D) said he supported the mayor’s proposal but would not vote against the entire budget if he pursued elimination.

During this week’s budget hearings, Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee continued to defend police in schools. Both cited at the hearing and in interviews an increase in violent incidents as students across the district and across the country struggle to readapt to being in classrooms after learning at home for so long during the pandemic.

Contee said gun seizures in schools are increasing. The police chief testified that he recently received a phone call from a council member, whom he did not identify, who said that teachers were scared in their school building and told him, ” There are no police in this school.

The now controversial school policing program was created after a student was shot inside Ballou High in southeast Washington in 2004 and later died in hospital. It was Contee, then head of the police department’s homicide unit, who responded to the shooting. He publicly described standing over the shot student inside the school.

Contee said if police are pulled from schools, the department is considering workarounds, including having police attempt to build relationships with students outside of schools during drop-in and drop-out times.

“I think it’s an incredible mistake that we are making,” he said.

Ferebee said in an interview that if the police were removed from schools, the police – who do not have student relations or may not be specifically trained to interact with students – would still be called into the school. He argued that this could lead to more arrests.

“When you don’t know the student they have a relationship with you, it could impact how the school resource officer reacts, and it could impact how the student reacts,” said Ferebee. “If the relationships don’t exist, it could go wrong.”

City leaders said there was a misperception of the role of the police in schools. A common reason the police are called to elementary schools, for example, is when fights break out between parents during custody battles on campus. In the vast majority of these cases, headteachers said, no one is arrested. These officers also help supervise students on parts of their journeys to and from schools – journeys punctuated by community gun violence and teenage fights.

Although there is no formal rule, municipal leaders are not authorized to execute warrants on school property for crimes that do not occur at school. But officers can arrest students if there’s a violent crime going on there. In total, city officials said resource officers made 62 school arrests and other DC police officers made 36 school arrests during the 2019-20 school year. “School-based” includes arrests made during off-campus school activities, such as sporting events.

Ferebee said the board did not get enough feedback from parents, students and school staff before voting to phase out school police last year.

“I would like to see a stronger commitment before a change like this is made,” he said.

Councilman Robert C. White Jr., who is running against Bowser for mayor, said the city needs a more thoughtful approach to school safety, possibly working with trained safety officers. both public safety and the practice of restorative justice.

“We need our schools to be safe, and the reason so many people don’t want police in schools is because they’re worried about unnecessary interactions between young people and the police,” White said. “Now I believe our best approach is to train security guards who are not police officers but who can keep students and teachers safe.”

DC schools also have unarmed security guards at entrances to school buildings. The gendarmerie had held the contract for this security for a long time and took care of the hiring. But in 2020, the DC Council voted to give the school system control of that contract.

Ferebee said he launched a pilot program last year in which schools could choose to eliminate a security guard and invest the money in mental health or behavioral services. More than a dozen schools participated.

Emily Davies contributed to this report.

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