The Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee (PADC) has been following the proposal for a School Resource Officer (SRO) with a great deal of attention and interest. We have researched the possible impact of an SRO on our schools and community, now that Piedmont has been awarded a CA Department of Justice Tobacco Grant for this purpose. Some of our members have pulled together various evidence-based articles regarding School Resource Officer implementation, and we wanted to share those articles and our concerns with you. Here is a link with those resources.
The Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee is proud of its collaboration with the school district and the City of Piedmont to ensure that our schools provide a safe, nurturing and inclusive environment for all students and staff and our City is viewed as a model of inclusion in all its practices, including policing. We appreciate the school and City’s efforts to ensure safety for all our community members and the strides our community has made in equitable and impartial policing. Based on the research shared here, we a have serious questions whether installing a School Resource Officer is the ideal solution for our community at this time. We have a number of specific concerns that are highlighted in these articles, but two of the main concerns are listed here, followed by suggestions for a more effective and transparent public engagement/outreach plan.
1) It is not clear that inserting police officers into schools is a good way to improve school safety or that our schools will benefit by having one. What danger is an SRO intended to prevent? Statistically, the odds of a given child getting killed in a mass school shooting — or any school shooting — are less than 1 in a million. On the other hand, arrest rates for disorderly conduct and low-level assault substantially increase when SROs are assigned to schools. In addition, studies indicate that the presence of SROs leads school administrators to defer to the police on issues of appropriate punishment, and increases the number of students involved in the justice system.
The staff report that accompanies the City Council agenda item suggests a strong and thriving partnership between the schools and police department. We also recognize the physical proximity of the Police Department to the Middle and High Schools’ campus. Given this strong and close partnership, it is not clear why Piedmont in particular needs a law enforcement officer, who will likely carry a firearm, to be on campus.
2) The data indicates a differential impact of SROs on students of color and other minorities, which has a negative impact on us all. For example, an analysis by the Austin-based public-interest law center Texas Appleseed found that police officers assigned to McKinney, Texas schools had arrested and ticketed black students at an “extremely high and unequal” rate. And SROs' presence in the schools led to an increase in the citation of black students, and a decrease in the citation of white students. Given our schools recent work to increase inclusiveness and diversity we are very concerned that this could have the effect of undoing that work, and inadvertently creating more problems within the schools - especially for students of color. Given the reality of implicit bias, even a well-intentioned SRO is likely to over identify students of color for disciplinary issues.
Our suggestion: Increase Public Engagement/Outreach Processes to determine if an SRO is necessary.
It is not clear how and why the decision was made to explore an SRO position through the CA DOJ Tobacco Grant Program in the first place. It seems that neither the school board nor the city council voted to make this a strategic priority, and there has been no public discussion about the issue beyond one school board meeting when the issue was introduced (to a limited audience). We applaud the city and school district for undertaking a public engagement/outreach plan to “provide an overview of a Piedmont specific SRO program, answer questions and seek feedback” and strongly encourage this in order to get input. Ideally, this would go beyond the small proportion of stakeholders who are able to attend in person meetings or feel comfortable voicing their concerns over this complex issue in a public setting. To ensure an effective and transparent public engagement/outreach effort we recommend that the school district follow processes it has used in the recent past including:
- In addition to scheduled meetings seeking community input, conduct a brief online survey to elicit input from a broader group of students, staff and parents than are likely to attend in person meetings.
- Consider convening a time-bound taskforce of students, staff, parents, school board members, police department and city leaders to determine (a) IF an SRO program is what our community needs; (b) identify lessons from the implementation of SRO programs in similar districts; and make recommendations on IF and how Piedmont should move forward with implementing the California Department of Justice Tobacco Grant.
While we understand and agree that building a positive school culture is crucial, given the research to date, we do not believe that an SRO is the best method of achieving this in our schools. There are numerous paths forward that could be more effective in this regard,we believe, including the district’s recent commitment to restorative justice practices in the schools and offering enhanced student counseling services and groups that serve to educate and support everyone. Furthermore, we are concerned that the implementation of an SRO could have unintended negative consequences on all our students, especially students of color and contribute to perpetuating systems of privilege and oppression,the exact opposite of what is ideal to model for the next generation.
We are looking forward to meeting with Chief Bowers & Superintendent Booker at our January 10th meeting, including a discussion of these concerns and of the key motivations and goals around the possible implementation of an SRO. All are welcome to join this meeting.
Thank you all in advance for considering these resources.
David Gard - Co-president PADC
Tonda Case - Co-president PADC
PADC Executive Board