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I went to two high schools, one private and one public. The former certainly had no police officers present, and the latter, if it did employ armed guards, kept them in relative obscurity.

Though the public school I attended had a large student body, it served a collection of small towns rather than a big city. This—combined with the fact that full-blown helicopter parenting and zero-tolerance policies (like the one which that landed that Texas clock kid in cuffs) were then about a decade away—produced a school in which teenage misbehavior was typically dealt with by teachers, not cops.


Today my experience in both schools is increasingly not the norm. Police presence in public schools increased by a third from 1997 to 2007, even though there’s little evidence to show that placing officers in schools reduces criminal activity. In fact, some data suggests that the opposite is true: when cops withdraw from the school environment, misbehavior has been found to decrease.

But regardless of student shenanigans or lack thereof, it is certain that putting cops in schools has dramatically spiked the number of American children who finish high school with an arrest record. Some 92,000 kids were arrested in the 2011-2012 school year, mostly for low-level offenses.

Policing primary education has a lot to do with this—in fact, for one charge (disorderly conduct), a student who attends a school with a police officer present is five times more likely to be arrested as a child in a cop-free school:

This happens way more at schools with officers. A report by the Justice Policy Institute found that, even controlling for a school district’s poverty level, schools with officers had five times as many arrests for “disorderly conduct” as schools without them.

This isn’t something that the juvenile court system is calling for — quite the opposite. The chief judge of the juvenile court in Clayton County, Georgia has become an outspoken opponent of police in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline after placing cops on school grounds resulted in eleven times as many students getting sent to juvenile court.

That judge, Steven C. Teske, testified to Congress that in addition to overcriminalizing children, a constant police patrol in schools actually distracts attention from really serious infractions by bogging down the justice system with petty stuff a teacher or principal should be able to handle:

It was also frustrating for me as a judge to see the effectiveness of the prosecutor and probation officer weakened by my court system being inundated with low risk cases that consumed the court docket and pushed kids toward probation—kids who made adults mad versus those that scare us.

The prosecutor required more time for the most serious cases that, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the child would require intensive supervision for the protection of the community. Instead, the prosecutor’s attention was taken from the more difficult evidentiary and “scary” cases—burglary, robberies, car thefts, aggravated assaults with weapons– to prosecuting kids that are not “scary,” but made an adult mad.

In fact, curiously, the police presence that was originally marketed as a way to stop in-school violence increases arrests for all types of crimes but weapons charges:

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So constantly policing schools has not only failed to make them safer but has actually increased the danger to American children, making them more likely to be unnecessarily thrown in jail or slapped with a criminal record. They’re also more likely to be the victim of another tragedy of violence on campus.

Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at www.bonniekristian.com or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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