School officers doing their job

School officers doing their job

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Criticism of Champaign's school resource officers isn't borne out by the facts.

School resource officers will remain in five Champaign schools for another school year, thanks to a unanimous vote Monday by Unit 4 board members.

Unfortunately, the board's vote did not come without the usual complaints that the SROs are really nothing more than agents of oppression who systematically seek out black youths for intimidation and arrest.

Relying on 2013-14 arrest numbers that showed 19 of 21 students arrested were black, speakers pilloried the officers as posing a physical danger to students.

"Don't take this lightly. We have a grave concern about police officers with guns in close proximity to our children," Byron Clark, co-chair of the North End Breakfast Club, told board members.

If the program actually is as mean-spirted and prejudiced as critics claim, how could it win a 70 percent approval rating from parents?

Might the answer to that question be that having SROs in the schools isn't nearly as bad as the critics claim?

Might the answer be that having SROs in the schools helps to establish an orderly climate more conducive to learning?

The critics, however, are right about one thing. The number of students involved in disciplinary incidents involving the SROs is disproportionate — more black students than white.

But numbers don't tell the whole story. The critics would have a point if they could show that SROs ignore misbehavior by white students to focus solely on misbehavior by black students.

If the numbers showed more boys than girls arrested, would it demonstrate that SROs ignore misconduct by girl to focus solely on misconduct by boys?

Wouldn't it be more reasonable to conclude, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that more boys misbehaved than girls and that more black students misbehaved than white students? Remember, those who come in contact with police are usually volunteers, not draftees.

Further, as far as the argument of proportionality goes, consider the number of 21 arrests in the 2013-14 school year.

SROs are located in five schools (Central and Centennial high schools and Jefferson, Franklin and Edison middle schools). These five schools, operating nine months a year, produced 21 arrests, 19 of whom were black. That minority arrest rate is four black students per school over nine months, averaging slightly more than 1 arrest every two months.

To suggest, as one critic alleged in a federal complaint, that those numbers show institutional racism that undermines the effectiveness of SROs simply is not credible.

To the contrary, what the numbers show is that the presence of SROs in Champaign schools has led to a dramatic improvement in the overall climate that benefits all students, particularly those from lower socioeconomic circumstances.

The number of police calls to Champaign schools is down dramatically from 2006, when the SRO program was initiated, and so is the number of arrests. That's progress, not oppression.

The 21 arrests reflect the fact that every so often student misbehavior crosses the line from a discipline issue to a violation of the law.

What are the SROs really doing in Champaign schools?

Even if they cannot put it in words, most people have an intuitive understanding of what's happening.

Police officers play many roles, few as important as that of community caretakers.

Got a problem? They lend a hand.

If there's a medical emergency, they take charge and oversee medical response.

If there's a traffic jam, they sort it out.

Concerned about a neighbor's welfare, they check to see if everything is all right.

Baby ducks march into a storm sewer? They go down into a smelly, filthy hole and rescue them.

In the case of SROs, they provide a calming presence in what can be a chaotic school atmosphere.

They serve as deterrents to misbehavior, provide an understanding ear to students who may need guidance or assistance, break up fights before they get started and offer a general helping hand to whoever needs one.

If they weren't there, as it was demonstrated in the past, it wouldn't be long before people would be wishing they were.

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Glock21 wrote on June 13, 2015 at 6:06 am

I'm more hesitant to dismiss the concerns of institutional racism, even if the disparity in arrests is a repurcussion of institutional racism as opposed to SROs being part of the problem. On the other hand, I'm a strong proponent of having SROs in schools as part of good community policing where not only future voters and young citizens can interact with and form opinions about police, but police can interact and better understand the community they're entrusted to protect.

 

I truly do not understand (and perhaps I'm unobjectively redneck about it) the idea that by them carrying firearms is some sort of oppressive thing in and of itself. Our kids are our most precious commodity and it should go without saying that an SRO would never ever ever want to have to be in a situation to use their sidearm. But if such a nightmare scenario arises, as a parent, I'm glad they have one. There's plenty of room to criticize and hold our local police accountable about any number of incidents and how they treat some white guy like me versus my black neighbor, and it's a damn important issue to argue about as grown up citizens and voters.. which the kids will be someday, and it's better they know for themselves and not just what us old people tell them about police (for better or worse) when they start crafting their democracy to their liking..

 

SROs aren't the prison warden of of local schools, they're the good guys. I wish I had them when I was growing up in Peoria. Holding them to high standards as a community is fine, they already hold themselves to higher standards. If an SRO ever does something that falls short of those standards, by all means, the community should never shy from critiizing and holding them accountable. And if they ever start becoming prison guard-esque I'll join the bandwagon of distrust. But as of now, in our little community and school district... I think they're doing a dern good job and I'm glad the board is keeping them around.