Tuesday, March 10, 2015
With all of the attention on the Department of Justice's report into Ferguson policing, this blog's readers might be interested pages 37 and 38 of that report, which have largely escaped media attention. The report concludes that Ferguson police officers serving as school resource officers (SROs) at a local middle and high school too often "treat routine discipline issues as criminal matters and  use force when communication and de-escalation techniques would likely resolve the conflict."
DOJ reports two specific cases -- a ninth-grader charged with "Failure to Comply" when she refused to walk to the principal's office after a fight during class, and a middle schooler charged with the same offense when "the student refused to leave the classroom after getting into a trivial argument with another student." Both cases involved African-American children. The latter incident led to the officer using a Taser on the child, who was suspended for 180 days, in addition to his arrest and juvenile court charge. DOJ concluded these arrests for petty offenses were not unique -- "As one SRO told s, the arrests he made during the 2013-14 overwhelming involved minor offenses -- Disorderly Conduct, Peace Disturbance, and Failure to Comply with instructions."
DOJ took the SROs (and, implicitly, the schools) to task for several systemic problems. They faulted the Ferguson Police Department and the Ferguson-Florissant School District for signing a MOU that "does not clearly define the SROs' role or limit SRO involvement in cases of routine discipline or classroom management. Nor has FPD established such guidance for its SROs or provided officers with adequate training on engaging with youth in an educational setting."DOJ went on to issue blanked critique of SRO practices in Ferguson:
SROs’ propensity for arresting students demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with such arrests. In fact, SROs told us that they viewed increased arrests in the schools as a positive result of their work. This perspective suggests a failure of training (including training in mental health, counseling, and the development of the teenage brain); a lack of priority given to de-escalation and conflict resolution; and insufficient appreciation for the negative educational and long-term outcomes that can result from treating disciplinary concerns as crimes and using force on students.
This critique surely is not limited to Ferguson; DOJ and the Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague Letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline raising similar concerns nationally, and DOJ cited that letter in its Ferguson report.
It is also worth noting that the St. Louis County Family Court -- the juvenile court to which SROs referred these children -- is separately under investigation by DOJ. See here. That investigation was opened in 2013 -- before the Ferguson was in the national spotlight. Whenever DOJ completes that investigation, we will see if DOJ finds similar problems across the County.