Cops in Schools — What Could Possibly Be Wrong With That?

300px-Wiggum_on_an_OstrichEverybody’s favorite socialist brings home the pork: Bernie Sanders announced today that he’d managed to pull down a $500K grant for Vermont police.

Of that, $100K is to go to a continuation of funding for the School Resource Officer Program, a federal notion from the Clinton era that places a police officer in a public school setting. Sanders claims that “This program […] is an important outreach tool that helps deter crime. These officers bridge the gap between law enforcement and students, promote positive attitudes towards law enforcement; prevent juvenile crime by helping students formulate an awareness of rules, authority, and justice; and instruct students how to avoid becoming a victim through self-awareness and crime prevention. “This is a very successful program that has already placed officers in school systems around the state of Vermont,” Sanders said. “This funding will help to place additional school resource officers in Vermont schools.”

I’d love to see some data to support his claim that “this is a very successful program” — I’m not finding any public reports or evaluations of the project. I’d also be curious what metrics Sanders would use to measure the success of something like this.The few media reports of SRO activity offers no real clue — the only significant story relates the 2007 panic attack in when a School Resource Officer “discovered” that teenagers in Middlebury were using the legally available herb salvie to get a mild high (laugh if you must, it’s here).

The ACLU examined the SRO program in CT in 2008 — findings and recommendations here. The findings were not at all clear.

Just as we’re increasingly moving our cops into a more confrontational role (e.g. by giving them tasers so they can feel more at ease using almost-lethal force with their prey customers), the SRO program seems to be a sign of what the ACLU describes as “a tendency to criminalize and legalize infractions that might otherwise have been dealt with administratively.” I’m sure a compassionate and considerate police officer can do wonderful things with troubled kids on the verge of getting marginalized because of petty crime and social dysfunction, but so could a councelor or extra teacher’s aide. And just as with the widely criticized and largely ineffective D.A.R.E. youth drug prevention program, the notion that cops are suited at all to educate kids is questionable at best.

I appreciate that Sanders has to look for money where it’s available, and at a time where the only federal budgets with any heft seem to involve surveillance and/or brute force, it’s understandable that he’d end up landing a grant for the Vermont police. but I’d like to think that Sanders would prefer teachers and parents teaching our kids how to conduct themselves and stay out of trouble. Of his key selling points, “promote positive attitudes towards law enforcement” and “formulate an awareness of rules, authority, and justice” sound a lot like bulletpoints from the the Orwellian wishlist of the federal government.