Do We Need Police In Anchorage's Schools?
Time to say goodbye to the SRO program? I say yes.
At the West Side Community Council candidates forum, I was able to ask the Mayoral candidates if they were willing to remove the $3 million cost of the School Resource Officer program out of the ASD budget and fund it with municipal funds, which would enable the ASD to reinstate summer school, a proven program of educational worth.
Mr. Honeman replied that public safety is part of the municipality's job and it should be fully funded. He also stated he believed in the value of the program.
Mr. Isley responded almost the same; he believed the program had value, too.
Mr. Lupo responded that if there had been cops at his school in New York City he probably would not have been threatened by gangs and forced to drop out of school.
Mayor Sullivan indicated that providing a free service like cops in schools was originally a federal program that cost the school district nothing. Around 2006 it turned into a cost for the Municipality when the federal funds dried up. His point was that the city cannot afford to assign 18 officers and a supervisor to the ASD for free. The municipality has to pay for the training and is the only one who can hire and fire the officers. He indicated that the ASD and city were currently looking at a 75% funding level because the officers are only assigned to schools for 75% of their shifts.
All of the candidates perceived a value in the program.
Unfortunately all the candidates missed a major point. There has never been a study to see if the program works.
The most recent study by the UAA Center for Justice states,
"While the new study fills a significant gap in previous knowledge on SROs the research does not help assess the effectiveness of SRO programs. As Myrstol’s article states, “Despite the massive financial investments by the federal government to initiate SRO programs and train police officers, and the widespread adoption of programs across the country, relatively little is known about how SRO programs operate, and even less is known about their ability to achieve programmatic goals.”
“Given that there has been so little research on the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of SRO programs, why is it that the public has so much confidence in the SROs to achieve their programmatic objectives?” Myrstol said. “Clearly, such support is not grounded in empirical evidence of effectiveness.”
The study evaluates the 6 goals for the program set by the APD, of which only one has been met:
1) To enhance safety in and around schools.
UAA and AEA agree no measurable effect
The National Education Association believes that all education employees, parents/guardians, students, school governing boards, and community members must work cooperatively to establish and maintain student safety. NEA also believes the most effective strategies focus on prevention, counseling, and conflict resolution. SROs, says Myrstol, can make a significant contribution to these efforts.
“Officers are also expected to educate students about the law and crime prevention, as well as the profession of policing,” says Myrstol. “They are also supposed to mentor students.”
2) To reduce juvenile delinquency and crime in the community
No statistics on SRO specifically, just general FBI crime reports.
Just based on personal observations of the amount of graffiti in town, it does not seem to be dropping.
3) To build trust and positive relationships with students.
According to UAA and Northern Light, it depends on your viewpoint.
"A total of 61.6 percent of Anchorage adults reported that permanently assigning police to schools is a good way to improve students’ attitudes toward police. A number of UAA students disagreed with the finding.Clinical psychology graduate student Rachel Wahto stated that while having police in schools increases teenagers’ exposure to authority figures in may not be enough.“It depends on the interactions (students) have with the officers,” Wahto said. “If they interact with them negatively then it really doesn’t benefit anyone, at least in terms of attitudes about it.” Junior Paul Winter, engineering major, echoed a similar opinion.“I think if anything it’s going to make people more hostile toward police because they (students) enter school a negative attitude toward them (police) already,” Winter said." “Not only do people have a great deal of confidence in SRO programs, there is little concern for unexpected negative outcomes,” Myrstol said. Negative consequences include creating additional barriers between police and students, increasing the level of fear in schools and undermining the authority of school officials."
4) To increase school attendance.
A TOTAL FAILURE
According to School Board President Gretchen Guess, "40% of kindergarteners-3rd grade miss 10% or more of the school year and attendance is a major issue in the ASD" Dan Fagan show 3/7/2012.
Anchorage adults were less convinced about the ability of SROs to impact truancy. One fifth of the residents surveyed (20.8 percent) agreed that a SRO program is a good way to improve student attendance. Myrstol’s best guess as to why people are so skeptical about the ability of police to have a meaningful impact on truancy is that most of them understand there are limits to what the officers can achieve. “There are a whole set of complex sociological, economic, and cultural factors that influence whether or not a child attends school, and very few of them can be impacted by police,” Myrstol said. “I think the public understands this.”
5) To enhance the learning environment, specifically through anti-bullying efforts.
The ASD already does this through a program called Aggressor, Victim, Bystander.
(A response to a lawsuit they lost.)
This program is administered by teachers and the SROs are almost never involved. The SROs step in only if an assault or threatened assault takes place.
6) To provide a high level of police service to the Anchorage School District.
"Among the findings, an estimated 81.5 percent reported that SRO programs are a good way to reduce violent crimes in schools, and more than 75 percent stated that SROs are a good way to reduce property crimes in schools and vandalism of school property."
Schools have not been proven to be safer by having the SRO program.
It is time for the ASD Board to kill this program completely. It will save $3 million.
It is a classic example of what is wrong in the ASD. We adopt a free program, continue it past its funding and never ever check to see if it is performing the service it was said to provide.
Until a study is done showing a measurable good for the program, it is funded on a perception and robs valuable resources from the ASD.