Monday, March 23, 2009

Cops In School Are Risky Unless They Help At-Risk Kids

While the jury is still out on whether school districts’ police forces are worth the investments, Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is moving on with his foregone verdict that his district needs one.

It’s hard to point to any definitive research that suggests that districts creating their own police departments are magically better, but there’s no denying that boys like their toys.

The infatuation with a Memphis City Schools Police Department predates Mr. Cash and extends back to a blatantly perfunctory report that was essentially a conclusion in search of a justification when the city schools first raised the possibility of school police. The report painted a positive portrait of the school police (mainly by only surveying districts that had their own police) and was aimed at propping up a bill in the Tennessee Legislature to allow districts to create their own cops.

True Believer

It was no secret when Superintendent Cash was hired that he was a devout believer in school police. One of his first hires was controversial former Miami-Dade Public Schools security chief Gerald Darling, who was given the charge to come up with a plan for a school district police force to replace the current hybrid system that includes City of Memphis policemen and school security officers.

We assume that before anyone approves the $10 million police force (there’s always money for pet projects), there will be the release of a comprehensive, coordinated security plan. More than a decade ago, a former Shelby County mayor also wanted his own police force. Then too county government had a hybrid of security guards and deputies, but the mayor then just could not resist the temptation to play sheriff.

So, the county administration created its own police force, complete with its own police cars and powers. It was of course suggested to the public that it was a more economical way of ensuring the public’s safety, but quickly, the costs of the police department ballooned and by the time they were under control again, it was clear that the original idea wasn’t really researched or thought out.

Educated Guess

We’re hoping that’s not the case at Memphis City Schools because running a police force seems a long way from the core skills there.

That said, here’s why we think it’s worth a try. Superintendent Cash said that his intention is that the district police force is part of a plan to set up a process that will prevent students – at least the non-violent ones – from being referred to Juvenile Court.

If that can only take place by Memphis City Schools creating its own policemen, we need to know it as the virtues of school cops are evaluated. If that’s the case, it’s pretty much a done deal from our perspective.

Criminalizing Kids

The truth is that the behavior of students in Memphis City Schools – because they are poor and African-American – is criminalized much more often than say, students at Houston High School in the Shelby County Schools district. Remember back when every elected official in Memphis was outraged to learn that juveniles arrested in Germantown were not automatically transported to Juvenile Court. The answer by the elected officials was to call for the “rich kids” to be treated the same as the “poor kids.”

We always wondered why the cry that went up wasn’t for Memphis kids to have the same options for interventions as the Germantown students. The truth is that Germantown was doing precisely what it should have, because the decision to place a young person in the juvenile justice system is often tantamount to foreclosing his options for the future.

Any chance that we have to prevent Memphis students involved in non-violent incidents from going to Juvenile Court is an idea worth pursuing, because if you want to see something that is life-altering, it is found in the justice system that turns at-risk students into risky adults, as research has proven

To us, it seems that if Memphis City Schools is going to create its own cops, it needs at the same time to create its own case workers to make sure these students receive the wrap-around social services that can serve as the interventions that can open up real options for their futures.


Brad Watkins said...

Thanks for posting this.
There is a vital need for increased intervention and greater parental and community involvement and oversignt in the Juvenile justice system.
The rank and file people of JC while hardworking and sincere are overwhelmed in a system that sends too many of our kids on the path of continued involvement in the Criminal justice system.
That is why the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center is currently working with Jean Handley, and Turning Point Partners and Chief Darling with MCS to launch a RESTORATIVE JUSTICE pilot program, in Four Schools with high crime rates this fall.This program reduces the number of area youth sent to JC for less serious offenses.Increases transparency and Involves the School administration, parents, offender, and victim and community shareholders.
I look forward to perhaps speaking with you and others in this community concerned with the issues of curbing juvenile recidivism, and providing progressive solutions to the challenges that face our community.

Zippy the giver said...

Except that MCS has not been delivering it's crime stats to the state so you operate under a false set of in school crime reports. This is how the administration die hard do nothings are undermining Dr. Cash's effort to get crime down, by pretending it doesn't exist by not delivering the records.
Now that has been reported publicly, maybe subversion will stop or at least people will quit operating like kids in lower income areas don't get more preferential treatment than kids in G=town. Obviously, they do.

Brad Watkins said...

I saw that report and have long heard about the under reporting of criminal incidents within MCS. I think that only highlights the need for the Restorative Justice plan. Increasing parental and community involvement will have the added effect of increasing transparency into the system.

Zippy the giver said...

That would be great, but, you have a system responsible for multiple generations of under educated people with non competitive skills who passed frustrated a long long time ago and are long passed apathy now. MCS, you can't get them back, you have destroyed them. You have destroyed families. Putting a band aid on with a symptom based "solution" will make YOU feel good but won't do crap in the long run because the core issue remains unchanged and very well beyond the scope of your efforts. You shouldn't top doing things but you really need to do a lot more examination of the problem and go for it's core to be effective.
The parents aren't the core of the problem, they are victimized repeatedly till dead inside.
The kids aren't the core of the problem, they are the second victims.
The Police aren't the core of the problem, they are a call and response system.
The purposeful and willing subversion of your education system is the core of the problem and a dollar figure could be placed on the damages caused. You could sue for that amount.
The repercussions have caused damages too and I bet they are even worse.
Many of your failures are failures to be able to uphold the law when it would have meant something. Playing catch up is hard.
The ONLY WAY to do ANYTHING about this is to rehabilitate the incarcerated, as many as you can, and deal with the mental illness the local system has caused here, it's rampant. At some point, you gotta start doing the right thing and that isn't an apology or token gesture, it's rehabilitation and restoration and accountability.

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