Police in Schools Research for CPS LSCs

C Tocci
15 min readJul 16, 2020

Updated with additional research on August 1, 2020. Spanish version here.

Chicago Public Schools has offered Local School Councils a “School Resource Officer Toolkit” with links to six articles as research on the topic. This is woefully inadequate and the pieces selected don’t really represent the published research.

To cut to the chase, the education research literature on police in schools shows that these programs have an overall negative affect on students’ academic outcomes and increase the number of misdemeanor arrests of students. Black youth are the most impacted by police in schools, with LGBTQ+ and students enrolled in special education also suffering disproportionately.

Image from the Chicago Sun-Times

Though I’m not an expert in this area, I do have access to a university library and years of practice in summarizing research. So to help LSCs make better informed decisions, below is the research summary on police in schools that I wrote for my alderman as well as a link to my google folder collecting the literature.

A note in advance: there is research on police in schools in both the criminal justice and education research fields. They are different. Speaking very generally, the criminal justice studies try to get at the effectiveness of school resource officers as a policing strategy; the education studies look at how police affect the schools they are in. I focused my summary on the research that addresses how the presence of police impacts schools because that is what LSCs are weighing.

Historical Background

School systems’ cooperation and coordination with local police departments goes back to the first decade of the 20th Century, largely in the form of truancy officers (Kunichoff, 2017). The first formal “School Resource Officer” (SRO) program was introduced in Flint, Michigan in 1953 (Kafka, 2011). Chicago Public Schools (CPS) began its district-wide formal cooperation with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) in 1966 with the simultaneous introduction of two programs. The “Officer Friendly” program started with 40 officers visiting elementary schools in order to provide young students with positive experiences with law enforcement. The “Officer Friendly” program expanded in size through the 1970s but ended in the early-1980s as it demonstrated no real benefits despite significant costs. “Officer Friendly” was a the forerunner to federally sponsored “cops-as-educators” programs such as the “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” program (D.A.R.E), started in 1987, and the “Gang Resistance Education and Training” program (G.R.E.A.T.), started in 1991. Evaluations of both D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. clearly showed that neither program demonstrated positive results (Lewis 2011).

The other CPS program initiated in 1966 was the hiring of off-duty CPD officers to serve as high school security guards. “The security guard force was only six people that first year because [of ] the funding allocation problems, but funding quickly grew until there were about five hundred security guards by 1972, most of which were off-duty police officers, armed and with the right to arrest” (Mercer quoted in Kunichoff, 2017). At the time, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was a driving force behind the “police-as-security” expansion; CTU president John Fewkes argued publicly that teachers needed to be protected from Black and Latinx youth who were increasingly organizing school-based Civil Rights protests (Kunichoff, 2017).

The rationale for growing CPS’ “police-as-security” program shifted in the 1970s as schools on the South and West sides underwent quick demographic shifts, typically from majority White student bodies to majority Black student bodies; parents from both races called for more police to prevent the violence that marked this transition (Kunichoff, 2017). Kafka (2011) found the same trend in 1970s Los Angeles, where the White parents paradoxically called for school policing to protect their children while also pointing to the presence of cops in schools as a reason for moving out of the city.

By the mid-1980s, the focus of school policing again shifted as gang violence became the primary premise, with the 1984 shooting of Ben Wilson near Simeon High School being a high-profile touchstone. In 1991, the newly-elected Mayor Daley drew on his “tough-on-crime” campaign platform to require every high school to employ two uniformed CPD officers.

Nationally, there has been massive growth in school-based police officers over the past 45 years. In 1975, 1% of schools reported having an officer stationed on campus. In 2014, 24% of elementary schools and 42% of secondary schools did so, including 51% of high schools that enrolled Black and/or Latinx students (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018). A significant portion of this increase was underwritten by U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which invested over $750 million in grants to local police departments to hire more than 6,500new SROs and provide them with training and technical assistance between 1999 and 2009 (Merkwae, 2015).

Over time, the roles and duties of police in a school setting have continued to expand as a result of social and political shifts in criminal justice and education policy. Paralleling this expansion has been the development of a more punitive school discipline environment where students are more likely to be suspended, expelled, ticketed, and/or arrested. (McKenna & White, 2017). There are mixed findings on whether or not the presence of SROs increases the use of exclusionary discipline or not (Fischer & Hennessy, 2016).

It’s notable that the current discussion in Chicago blends the “cops-as-educators” and “police-as-security” approaches without reckoning how the rationale for continuing or expanding the SRO program has historically evolved in tandem with shifting racist perceptions of Black and Latinx youth.

National Research

Research on school policing from across the United States clearly demonstrates that such programs are racially disparate in their application and their outcomes, with young Black men and women suffering the most severe consequences.

Students living in low-income neighborhoods and students of color are much more likely to attend schools with intense security conditions such as SROs, metal detectors, and x-ray machines (Nance, 2013). Nance’s (2016) analysis of US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data demonstrates that the regular presence of a police officer at a school increases the student referrals to law enforcement even after controlling for variation in state laws, demographics, as well recent levels criminal activity at the school and surrounding neighborhood. Mbekeani-Wiley (2017) shows that police officers stationed in schools increases the likelihood that students will be referred to law enforcement for adolescent behavior, though there is no evidence that students of color exhibit higher rates of misbehavior (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018). Whitaker et. al. (2019) found that schools with police officers report 3.5 times more arrests than those without.

Across the country, there are “14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker” (Whitaker et. al., 2019, p.4). National data from the 2013–2014 and 2015–2016 shows that students of color are more likely to attend schools that employed school police officers, but no school counselors. “Black students are three times more likely to attend a school with more security staff than mental health personnel” (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018).

Black and Latinx youth make up over 58% of school-based arrests while representing only 40% of the national public school enrollment. During the 2015–2016 school year, Black students made up 15% of the school population but 31% of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement. While constituting only 17% of female public school enrollment, Black girls represent 43% of girls arrested at school (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018). This means that young Black women are four times more likely to be arrested at school compared to White peers (Inniss-Thompson, 2017). Harris (2020) writes that “[r]esearch consistently finds these disparities are not reflective of higher rates of misbehavior among Black girls — rather, scholars attribute these inequities to adultification biases.”

Special needs students are especially at risk when interacting with police in schools. Students with disabilities represent only 12% of student enrollment, but 28% of students referred to law. Merkwae (2015) argues that the school-to-prison pipeline may be somewhat disrupted if SROs are required to follow the stipulations of students IEP or 504 plans per federal law. That this rarely occurs is a direct contradiction of notion that police officers serves as a “school resource.”

For LGBTQIA identifying students, school policing funnels them into a youth justice system where they are twice as likely to be arrested and detained for a nonviolent offense (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018).

Under Operation Impact, the program between New York City Public Schools and Police Department, saturated high schools located in high-crime areas with additional police officers with the mission to engage in aggressive, order-maintenance policing. Legewie and Fagan (2009) found that exposure to police surges significantly reduced test scores in English-language arts and math for African American boys, consistent with their greater exposure to policing. The size of the effect increases with age and with consecutive years of exposure to Operation Impact. Another analysis of the same program found that despite increased police presence, students enrolled at New York City’s impact schools continue to experience higher than average problems linked directly to future criminality, including more student suspensions and lower attendance rates than other New York City schools (Brady, Balmer, & Phenix, 2007).

Weisburst (2019) finds that exposure to a three-year federal grant for school police is associated with a 2.5 percent decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4 percent decrease in college enrollment rates. Exploiting detailed data on over 2.5 million students in Texas, Weisburst concludes that federal grants for police in schools increase middle school discipline rates by 6 percent. The rise in discipline is driven by sanctions for low-level offenses or school code of conduct violations. Further, Black students experience the largest increases in discipline.

Similarly, Sorenson, Shen, and Bushway, (2020) find that when an SRO arrives at a school, the incidence of serious violent offenses decreases, but students are also more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or referrals to law enforcement. SROs do not increase the overall number of juvenile justice complaints against students in a school but do increase the number of juvenile misdemeanor complaints (Sorenson, Shen, & Bushway, 2020). A close analysis of Denver Public Schools between 2007 and 2012 corroborates this conclusion. The majority of referrals in Denver were for minor behaviors like use of obscenities, disruptive appearance, and destruction of non-school property (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018)

There is mixed evidence about SRO program influences on student perceptions of law enforcement. Jackson (2007) found the use of an SRO in schools does not change students’ view of the police in general or offending. This weak impact is, at least in part, attributable to the negative contact that young people may have with the police and their SRO. This study concludes that, since the SRO has no significant impact on students’ perception of police or offending, then it would behoove school administrators to utilize their financial resources for counseling, student-faculty crime prevention programs or delinquency awareness programs. More recently, Theriot (2016) concludes that for students who have interacted with an SRO, there is evidence that such interactions positively influence students’ attitudes about SROs yet are associated with lower levels school connectedness. This influence appears especially acute for students who reported the most SRO interactions during the school year.

Nolan (2011) argues that continual engagement with police in urban schools by students of color increases noncompliance and resistance. In turn, student behaviors deemed “disrespectful” or “insubordinate” by SROs are often the precursor to an arrest. It is these types of recurrent interactions with police that fill the school-to-prison pipeline. Rios (2017) calls this a “crisis of control,” that is, the more schools attempt to control students of color through policing, the more student backlash it produces. This ultimately leads to a failure to control students, begetting a vicious cycle of calls for more policing to remedy current failures.

Conversely, Whitaker et. al. (2019) find that “[s]chools that employ more school-based mental health providers see improved attendance rates, lower rates of suspension and other disciplinary incidents, expulsion, improved academic achievement and career preparation, and improved graduation rates.” (p.4). Moreover, their analysis demonstrates a correlations between these kinds of school staff and improved student health as well as school safety outcomes.

Philadelphia provides a strong example of a large city school district intentionally developing systems to divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline. The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program, a collaboration between the public schools and Department of Human Services as well as other child-serving agencies, is designed to divert youth from school-based arrest and into community-based services to address identified needs. All students, ages 10 and older, without prior adjudications or open cases, who have committed designated summary or misdemeanor offenses on school grounds, are enrolled in this program and connected with a DHS-sponsored service provider — rather than facing arrest and automatic removal from school through suspension, expulsion, or disciplinary transfer. The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program has been cited as a model of collaborative partnerships to address the school-to-prison pipeline (Goldstein et. al. 2019).

None of the above literature presents a clear construct about what constitutes “security” or “safety” in relation to policing in a school setting. So, while there is compelling evidence that school policing programs negatively impact students of color, and Black youth most significantly, there is no evidence that SROs or police officers make schools more safe, more secure, or more effective learning environments (Whitaker et. al, 2019). In short, there is no positive educational case for police to be stationed in schools.

Chicago-focused Research

By and large the research on CPS’ SRO program comports with national research on school policing. More than 95% of police incidents in CPS involve students of color despite comprising only 89% of the student body. Even while police incidents overall have cut in half in the past decade, they continue to target Black students at four times the rate of White students in CPS. Black students currently make up 35.9% of all CPS students, yet 65.77% were the subject of Police Notifications from 2011–2012 to 2017–2018. Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs, required for enrollment in Special Education programs) make up only 15% of the CPS population, but over 30% of police incidents involve students with IEPs (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017; Ortiz et. al., 2020).

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General reported that from 2017–2019, nearly 3,000 people were arrested on or near CPS schools. Of these, 78% were Black and 18% Latinx. In the 355 incidents involving a reported use of force by officers, 81% of those arrested were Black and 14 were Latinx (Lawrence, 2020). It is important to note that these statistics were not collected or provided by CPS, but were compiled by the OIG using geo-location data from CPD. CPS is required by law to collected report these data to the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nearly a third (27%) of school-based arrest offenses on CPS property is simple battery. This suggests that a significant number of CPS students are probably being arrested for fighting. Certain police districts are more likely to arrest youth in schools than others. In particular, the highest aggregate numbers of juvenile school-based arrests are in the 4th, 6th, 8th, 22nd, and 5th police districts (covering the South and West sides of the city). Together these five districts account for 39% of total juvenile school-based arrests on CPS property. (Kaba & Edwards, 2012)

The 180 School Resource Officers and 21 School Liaison Supervisors assigned to CPS have a combined total of at least 2,354 misconduct complaint records on file against them (Ortiz et. al., 2020). Misbehavior by SROs led to over $2 million in settlements from 2012–2016 (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017). Moreover, there are sophisticated networks of investigation that may result in arrests and convictions that are not subject to community oversight and may possibly violate a student’s right to privacy (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017).

“By promoting police intervention in school settings, the district is limiting students’ opportunities to build productive and sustainable responses to stress and hindering their ability to succeed academically” (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017). As the Consortium on Chicago School Research argues, “it is the quality of relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships.” (Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E. and David W. Johnson, 2011, p.1).

With the preponderance of evidence indicating that SROs have a significant, racially disparate negative impact on students’ social and educational outcomes, CPS should feel compelled to end the SRO program and reinvest those funds into relationships, services, and reform efforts explicitly dedicated to the physical, social-emotional, and educational well-being of its students. And given the demographics of CPS and Chicago, these efforts must be thoughtfully and thoroughly anti-racist and assessed by the success of the students most harmed by police in schools, Black youth. There is no research-based argument to the contrary.

Bibliography (sources collected in this folder)

Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice. (2018). We came to learn: A call to action for police free schools. The Advancement Project. https://advancementproject.org/wp-content/uploads/WCTLweb/docs/We-Came-to-Learn-9-13-18.pdf?reload=1536822360635

Brady, K. P., Balmer, S., & Phenix, D. (2007). School — Police Partnership Effectiveness in Urban Schools: An Analysis of New York City’s Impact Schools Initiative. Education and Urban Society, 39(4), 455–478. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013124507302396

City of Chicago Office of Inspector General. (2018). Review of the Chicago Police Department’s management of school resource officers. Office of Inspector General.

City of Chicago Office of Inspector General. (2019). Review of the Chicago Police Department’s management of school resource officers follow-up inquiry. Office of Inspector General.

Duxbury, L. & Bennell, C. (2019). Police in schools: An evidence-based look at the use of school resource officers. Taylor & Francis.

Goldstein, N. E. S., Cole, L. M., Houck, M., Haney-Caron, E., Holliday, S. B., Kreimer, R., & Bethel, K. (2019). Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline: The Philadelphia police school diversion program. Children and Youth Services Review, 101, 61–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.03.022

Fischer, B.W. & Hennessy, E.A. (2016). School Resource Officers and Exclusionary Discipline in U.S. High Schools: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Adolescent Research Review, 1, p.217–233.

Harris, J. N. (2020, July 31). Why Black girls can’t wait for police free schools. Blavity.com. https://blavity.com/why-black-girls-cant-wait-for-police-free-schools?category1=opinion

Inniss-Thompson, M. N. (2017). Summary of discipline data for girls in U.S. public schools: An analysis from the 2013–2014 U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data collection. National Black Women’s Justice Institute. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/0c71ee_56ca58a75f8840908dca5decbf6701f6.pdf

Jackson, A. (2002). Police‐school resource officers’ and students’ perception of the police and offending. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 25(3), 631–650. https://doi.org/10.1108/13639510210437078

Javdani, S. (2019). Policing Education: An Empirical Review of the Challenges and Impact of the Work of School Police Officers. American Journal of Community Psychology, 63(3–4), 253–269. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12306

Kaba, M. & Edwards, F. (2012). Policing Chicago Public Schools: A gateway to the school-to-prison pipeline. Project Nia. http://policeinCPS.com

Kafka, J. (2011). The history of “zero tolerance” in American public schooling. Palgrave

Kunichoff, Y. (2017, October 31). Where the pipeline begins: A history of police in Chicago Public Schools. South Side Weekly. https://southsideweekly.com/where-the-pipeline-begins-history-police-chicago-public-schools-cps/

Lawrence, J. (2020, July 3). CPS Dodged Reforming Police In Schools For 2 Years, Inspector General Says. Now, District Vows To Do Better. Block Club Chicago. https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/07/03/cps-dodged-reforming-police-in-schools-for-two-years-inspector-general-says-now-district-vows-to-do-better/

Legewie, J. & Fagan, J. (2019). Aggressive Policing and the Educational Performance of Minority Youth. American Sociological Review (forthcoming). htps://osf.io/pre-prints/socarxiv/rdchf/

Lewis, S. A. (2011). A History of Programs Implemented by the Chicago Police Department within Chicago Public Schools [Doctoral Dissertation]. Loyola University Chicago. https://ecommons.luc.edu/luc_diss/50/?utm_source=ecommons.luc.edu%2Fluc_diss%2F50&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages

Mbekeani-Wiley, M. (2017). Handcuffs in the hallways: The state of policing in Chicago Public Schools.The Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

McKenna, J. M., & White, S. R. (2018). Examining the Use of Police in Schools: How Roles may Impact Responses to Student Misconduct. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(3), 448–470. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-017-9426-2

Merkwae, A. (2015). Schooling the Police: Race, Disability, and the Conduct of School Resource Officers. Michigan Journal of Race and Law, 21, p.147–182.

Nance, J.P. (2103). Students, Security, & Race. Emory Law Review, 63(1), p.2–57.

Nance, J.P. (2016). Students, Police, and the School-To-Prison Pipeline. Washington University Law Review, 93(4), p.919–987.

Nolan, K. (2011). Police in the hallways. Univ. of Minnesota Press. https://doi.org/10.5749/j.ctttsfnt

Ortiz, A., Martinez, K., Rodriguez, V., Perez, C., Hilke, C., Cantor, J., Southorn, D., May, P., & Armenta, M. (2020, June 16). #CopsOutCPS. BPNC, Beyond Legal Aid, American Fiends Service Committee, & Enlace. https://copsoutcps.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/CopsOutCPS-Report-6.22.20.pdf

Pigott, C., Stearns, A. E., & Khey, D. N. (2018). School Resource Officers and the School to Prison Pipeline: Discovering Trends of Expulsions in Public Schools. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(1), 120–138. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-017-9412-8

Rios, V. M., & Vigil, J. D. (2017). Human targets : schools, police, and the criminalization of Latino youth. The University of Chicago Press.

Sorensen, L., Shen, Y., & Bushway, S. D. (2020). Making Schools Safer and/or Escalating Disciplinary Response: A Study of Police Officers in North Carolina Schools. SSRN Electronic Journal.https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3577645

Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E. and David W. Johnson (May, 2011). Student and Teacher Safety in Chicago Public Schools: The Roles of Community Context and School Social Organization. University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. https://consortium.uchicago.edu/publications/student-and-teacher-safety-chicago-public-schools-roles-community-context-and-school

Theriot, M. T. (2016). The Impact of School Resource Officer Interaction on Students’ Feelings About School and School Police. Crime & Delinquency, 62(4), 446–469. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011128713503526

Turner, E. O., & Beneke, A. J. (2020). ‘Softening’ school resource officers: The extension of police presence in schools in an era of Black Lives Matter, school shootings, and rising inequality. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(2), 221–240. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2019.1679753

Weisburst, E. K. (2019). Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-term Education Outcomes: Patrolling Public Schools. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 38(2), 338–365. https://doi.org/10.1002/pam.22116

Whitaker, A., Torres-Guillen, S., Morton, M., Jordan, H., Coyle, S., Mann, A., & Sunn, W. (2019). Cops and No Counselors. The American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/report/cops-and-no-counselors