OVERVIEW: POLICE FREE SCHOOLS
Over the last few decades, we’ve placed police officers in our public schools and chronically underfunded the programs that help students succeed. According to a report by the ACLU, an astounding 14 million children attend schools that have police officers on campus, but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker. Although professional standards require at least one counselor and one social worker for every 250 students and one nurse and psychologist, for every 750, the ACLU found 90 percent of students are in schools that fail to meet these requirements.
This emphasis on police over counselors, psychologists, and nurses runs contrary to research and common sense. Law enforcement cannot adequately address childrens’ behavioral problems — they are trained to make arrests, period. In fact, a full quarter of all law enforcement officers in schools surveyed by Education Week stated they had no experience whatsoever with kids before being assigned to their current positions. A recent longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Maryland and Westat also shows that increasing police presence in schools actually increases the likelihood of criminal-like behavior and the likelihood of harsh disciplinary conduct such as expulsion or suspension.
By staffing schools with police officers — people who are trained to make arrests — we criminalize normal adolescent behavior and usher students into the criminal legal system with devastating long-term consequences.
Unsurprisingly, police presence in schools disproportionately harms students of color and students with disabilities and fuels the well-documented school-to-prison pipeline. Students with disabilities are 2.9x more likely to be arrested than students without disabilities. When compared to white students:
- Black students are 3x more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested.
- Pacific Island & Native American students are 2x more likely to be arrested.
- Latinx students are 1.3x more likely to be arrested.
In the wake of COVID-19 mental and physical health should be a school’s priority, not funding school police officers proven to actually make students feel less safe.
That’s why we’re joining student activists, parents and teachers and demanding expanding the budget for more counselors, not cops, in schools across the country. But we need you with us.
Keep reading to find out how you can secure real school safety for your community!
College or university student? Click here for more talking points about police on college campuses.
GETTING STARTED: CAMPAIGN BASICS
Anyone can organize their community for change by remembering a few key principles. This section will walk you through basic organizing best practices, then show you how to apply them to remove unnecessary police presence from your campus!
Here are the four basic steps for a successful campaign:
- Set a goal
- Develop a strategy
- Choose organizing tactics to achieve your goal
- Recruit volunteers to use your chosen tactics
Set a goal:
This is what we want to achieve, stated in terms of the strategy and timeline. Important factors when creating a goal are:
- Target – who is the decision maker
- Measurable action – what do you want them to do
- Timeline – when do you want it done by
- Forum – where we’re going to make the change happen
- Federal, state, municipal levels
- Executive, legislative, judicial branches
- Public / private institutions
For this campaign, we’ll demand a measurable action to decrease school funding for in-school police or School Resource Officers and use that funding for much needed student mental and physical health services. Or to put it simply, our goal is Counselors Over Cops.
Your target will vary, but could include a school board, school district or superintendent. Research your school system and find out how the budget is set. This information will also help you determine your timeline ( ex: the budget vote process begins in six weeks, so you have six weeks to ask the decision makers to approve a smaller police budget and fund more counselors).
Note: For police-free schools campaigns in higher-ed, you should identify who makes the decision about contacts with local police departments or who makes the decisions about your campus police force. This can be the vice president/chancellor for administration, the university president, the board of trustees, or dean of student affairs. For police-free schools campaigns in public school districts, your target should be your school board – they make decisions about policing in every public school within the district.
Develop a strategy:
This is what you will do to get the results you want. Clearly communicating how your strategy will result in real change is the key to growing your movement and winning!
A big part of a good strategy is figuring out how to convince your targets to do the right thing, in this case investing in more counselors over cops. You can choose which kind of strategy best fits your target from these most common types:
- Hero opportunity: giving the decision-maker the opportunity to be a hero by demonstrating widespread public support for a cause. Convincing them that the action we want them to take is in their self-interest.
- Pressure: changing the self-interest of the decision maker through public pressure. The target is against us but you build enough pressure that they have to change their minds.
- Political Cover: demonstrating that enough people are behind this movement so that the decision-maker can do the right thing. Some part of the constituency is against us (probably small but vocal), so you need to convince the decision maker that enough people are on your side.
An example: Pressuring your school board to move funding from school police to more counselors for the upcoming school year by showing them that there is broad support for an end to the policing and criminalization of students.
Tactics are how you get your targets to do the right thing. (In the above example, this would be how you show broad support for Counselors Over Cops at your school!). Here are some examples:
- Research: this alone won’t win a campaign, but it’s important to do the research to craft your goal and strategy. Research, through showing people the extent of the problem, can help mobilize people + secure positive press coverage. (Research the history of your university’s ties to the police + its current contracting).
- Grassroots work: this is how you demonstrate broad support for the change you want enacted. Things like petitions, emails, phone calls, protests, etc. (Create a petition and get 2,000 signatures, organize a day of action where hundreds of students, teachers, and parents call the public school board).
- Coalition building: this is how you demonstrate power in numbers and the appeal for your goal across different constituencies. (As a GLP chapter you can reach out to other aligned organizations on campus – racial justice, labor, environmental, human rights groups, professors who are likely w/ us. For school board campaigns, you can reach out to teachers + teacher’s unions, aligned school groups).
- Inside Lobbying: you should always start by going directly to the decision maker to try to win them over on the merits of the issue. If they don’t agree, use other points of leverage on the inside before going public with the media, grassroots, and your coalition. Think of your other inside influencers (is there anyone who can influence the president?)
- Media: this is how you make your target look good or bad, and communicate with your target in an effort to sway them (show who is with us on this issue). Media includes press releases, press conferences, op-eds, letters to the editors, outreach to reporters + editorial boards, tv coverage, radio coverage, etc.)
Note: Remember to match your tactics to your target! For example If you are working with a superintendent who wants to help, you don’t need to use pressure tactics like letters or calls to that individual.
When we work together we can achieve lasting change — that’s why communicating with people in your community and recruiting them to join your movement is so important. First, help people get invested in your goal, then frame your strategy and tactics as the solution to achieving your goal. Here’s how:
INTRO → start off with a simple greeting
PROBLEM → briefly explain what the problem is and why you personally care about it
ENGAGE → ask them how that problem affects them / what they think about it
SOLUTION → briefly explain how your organizing efforts will solve the problem
HARD ASK → ask them to get involved now
INFO → write down their name + contact info so you can plug them into your campaign!
Note: The “hard ask” refers to how you ask someone to get involved! Make sure you use concrete details and are direct with your question. Try to avoid qualifiers like “if” or “maybe” (ex: We’re having our campaign kickoff meeting this Wednesday at 7pm in Green Hall. Tons of students will be there! Can you join us?).
Let’s put it all together for a final example from our student-led campaign in Lexington, KY:
“Our Grassroots Law Project team is supporting a powerful, student-led, grassroots movement that’s reimagining school safety. They want more counselors – and fewer cops. But to make sure their message is heard ahead of the upcoming school board meeting, they need broad public support:
Will you stand with the students of Fayette County, Kentucky? Please sign now to demand that Fayette County Public Schools put counselors over cops – before next month’s board meeting.”
We have a clear goal (counselors over cops!), a target (the school board) and a timeline (the next meeting) and lastly a meaningful pressure strategy with a corresponding tactic (petition signatures).
In Lexington, student activists supported by GLP organizers have already pushed their school board to STOP investing in school police and audit the budget to begin proposing more funding for counselors. YOU can achieve this potentially life-saving change in your community by following and sharing this guide. That’s real change, and it starts with you. Thank you for stepping up to be an advocate for justice!
RESOURCES/MORE TALKING POINTS
Here is a webinar recording from our Summer 2020 Police Free Schools Program
Here is a list of solutions for campus over-policing recommended by GLP:
- Eliminate law enforcement from schools: Law enforcement is not trained to handle the issues children and adolescents experience, and funding them takes needed money away from providing mental health and other social service supports.
- Develop a checks-and-balance system before any teacher or school official can request law enforcement at a school: Teachers should only be allowed to call on law enforcement when there is an imminent threat to someone’s physical safety. If there is no imminent physical threat, the problem must be handled by mental health staff, counselors, and school administrators.
- Develop a checks-and-balance system before any teacher or school official can refer a case to a prosecutor: Teachers or school officials should never refer anyone under 16 to an outside prosecutor, and instead, should handle all issues that arise internally. If the child is above 16, they should only refer the case if the child has caused or attempted to cause serious bodily harm, and they should support the child’s entrance into supportive diversionary programs.
- End zero-tolerance and three-strikes disciplinary policies that disproportionately impact children of color: When a student starts exhibiting bad behavior, give them additional resources and support to address the behavior.
- Invest money in mental health supports and after-school programs that lead to positive long-term outcomes: The money saved by divesting from SROs should be redirected into needed services. In addition, increased resources from federal, state, and local budget allocations should be devoted to mental health supports, social services, and evidence-based programming.
- Invest in culturally competent mental health service providers: Students of color, for example, have different lived experiences than white children. It is critical that schools provide culturally competent counselors to help them address any problems they may be having.
Here is more information on police on college campuses:
Over 4,000 police departments operate at public and private postsecondary schools. According to the Department of Justice, at the vast majority of public colleges and universities—92 percent—campus officers are sworn and armed. Over 80 percent of these departments employ officers who also patrol the surrounding communities, making stops and arrests of residents who are unaffiliated with the colleges these officers are tasked with protecting.
While the number of police officers on campus has ballooned over the past fifty years, there are significant questions about whether a campus police force is at all necessary, leads to reduced crime, or offers any protection against school shootings, one of their proponents’ primary justifications. For example, 95 percent of the caseload of Harvard University’s police department, which has been the subject of numerous allegations of racism and discrimination lawsuits over the past twenty years, involves property crimes, not allegations of violence or cases involving physical harm. As for school shootings, the evidence also fails to justify an armed police force. School shootings are exceedingly rare, and when they do occur, they most often end because the shooter stops and not because of an arrest. In addition, officers can always be summoned to campus by a call to 911. The argument, then, that the remote possibility of a school shooting justifies the existence of an entire armed campus police force, is misleading at best.
Students, faculty members, advocates, and residents of communities surrounding these campuses have long opposed campus police departments, documenting numerous instances of racial profiling, searches, police violence, arrests and incarceration of primarily students, faculty, and residents of color. As the once faint chorus of voices protesting these practices grows louder, colleges and universities are under increased pressure to respond.
The debates surrounding eliminating or significantly shrinking police presence on campus is particularly pertinent now in the wake of the pandemic as colleges and universities cut programs, staff and wages to adapt to reduced income and lower budgets. In light of these strained finances, there is little justification for a continued prioritization of policing on campus and the accompanying bloated budget.
Here are GLP recommendations for reducing police on college campuses:
- Eliminate campus police forces, particularly those composed of sworn, armed officers.
- End cooperation agreements with local law enforcement agencies, which are often utilized to provide additional patrols on or near campus, supplemental security for large events, and specialized law enforcement services.
- To the extent necessary, replace campus police with a limited staff of unarmed security guards who can serve as sentries and resources for students and faculty in need of assistance.
- Limit security personnel to the campus itself and not patrol surrounding communities;
- Resolve incidents administratively when possible, especially when there are no allegations of force or physical harm.
- Engage in record-keeping to log all interactions between campus security and students, faculty, and members of the community no matter the outcome, and those records should be available to the public.
- Invest in community-based services, including mental health and substance use counseling, community educational and training programs, and other interventions proven to reduce crime in the surrounding community.
- University cops face renewed scrutiny amid protests against police brutality
- US students call on universities to dismantle and defund campus policing
- 4 ways private university police forces jeopardize public safety
- Get police out of schools — including university campuses
- College and universities have a racial profiling problem
- If police on campus have guns, is college more safe?
- The Rise of Law Enforcement on College Campuses
- Why nearly all colleges have an armed police force
- Students Demand Campuses Cut Ties with Police
- Campus Cops: Authority without Accountability
- Race and Policing in Higher Education
- Rein in Campus Police
Reports + Data: