RALEIGH — An advocacy group wants armed police officers off Wake County school campuses - and more money spent on alternatives to putting students in the criminal justice system.
A report released Thursday by Advocates for Children's Services, a project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, urges the Wake County school system to limit school resource officers, police officers assigned to schools.
Assigning officers to every middle school and high school "is a misguided approach that is financially unsound and educationally imprudent," the report says.
"We don't know if SROs increase school safety," said Jason Langberg, one of the report's authors and a lawyer for Advocates for Children's Services, which represents some students who are arrested. "Yet we do know, from research and investigation, that they are extremely expensive and criminalize the learning environment."
The school system contracts with the Wake County Sheriff's Office and the individual police departments to provide officers. Police officers have increasingly been assigned to schools around the country since 12 students and a teacher were killed at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
Langberg said the reality is that schools aren't as violent as some people believe.
School board Chairman Ron Margiotta said that in an ideal world armed police officers wouldn't be needed at schools. But he said school officials have to recognize issues such as gang problems on campuses.
" "We shouldn't have to need school resources officers in every school," Margiotta said. "Discipline should take care of that. But to say we'd take them out without doing a full analysis can't be supported."
Citing approaches used in other communities, the report has several recommendations for Wake, including:
Look at reducing staffing of school resource officers.
Don't let school resource officers carry guns and Tasers on campus. If allowed, the report says their use, along with that of pepper spray, should be strictly limited.
Encourage schools to use alternatives such as community service and peer mediation instead of "harsh discipline policies that involve law enforcement."
Provide specialized mandatory intensive ongoing training of school resource officers.
Prohibit arrests and delinquency and criminal charges against students who commit minor offenses in schools.
Require school resource officers to have probable cause before searching students and question students only in the presence of parents or legal guardians, which officers could not do off campus.
"We would expect principals and teachers in our schools to have proper training and be accountable," Langberg said. "Why should school resource officers be any less accountable or have less training?"
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