By Joe Angelino
A new school year is upon us and already there’s been violence reported. Last week there was yet another student-on-student fatal shooting in a public high school, this time in Spokane, Washington. Without trying to sound insensitive, the Spokane incident involved only one killed and three wounded. This may not even make the FBI’s list of school active shooter incidents and it is being dealt with by local authorities as a simple crime of murder.
Coincidently the same day closer to home, the Sidney High School and police department were dealing with a non-specific threat of violence by gunfire that turned out to be false. The Sidney type incident plays out with near daily regularity all over the United States thanks to social media spreading rumors like wildfire. Adding to the authenticity of social media gossip is the police investigation itself. When the police show up, the most far-flung rumor now has added credibility of a law enforcement scrutiny.
Often a school violence incident, even far distant, will be followed by a knee-jerk, loud call for cops in the local schools. In a school setting the teachers and principal should be the authority figures. I was never in favor of permanently assigned officers to specific school buildings. I preferred that any officer on patrol could stop in any school building during the school day to chit-chat, be seen and if the timing was right, sit down for lunch. That procedure was much more relaxed, gave the opportunity for all officers to participate, and did not diminish school official’s disciplinary clout in the eyes of students. But, to have an officer permanently assigned to a school just didn’t sit well with me for a variety of reasons.
First off, school buildings are the safest place a parent could ever leave a child, particularly the schools in our area. A school is a cross section of the surrounding community; meaning whatever is happening in the community to some extent is also happening in our schools. Because we all live in a very safe part of the country, our schools are inherently safe. They aren’t perfect, but they’re certainly not dangerous. We do have occasional issues of larceny and drugs, but those are few and seldom do we experience violence.
There are other reasons to not have permanently assigned officers in schools. From a police administrator’s perspective, the practice of the same police officer reporting for duty at a school building on a daily basis can sometimes cause the officer to forget to whom they are accountable. Cases of school principals being perceived as the defacto police chief in the officer’s eyes are common. This makes the officer’s already difficult job even more so.
Then the issue of having someone with arrest authority in a school building is just that – cops can arrest people. Having a police officer in such a close proximity only makes the likelihood of judicial intervention that much closer. Some people call this the “school to prison pipeline” that puts the at-risk youth population even deeper into the risk category. And there’s always the chance an officer will arrest a youth that is not in the at-risk category for a one time offense thus giving him the label of a criminal long before that should be happening...