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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:

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.


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:

  1. Set a goal
  2. Develop a strategy
  3. Choose organizing tactics to achieve your goal
  4. 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:

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:

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.

ChoosE Tactics:

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:

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.

Recruit volunteers:

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!


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:

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:


Reports + Data: