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Study: Mass. School Police Arresting Students For Routine Disciplinary Problems

In October 2007, a 14-year-old boy at Kennedy Middle School in Springfield did something 14-year-old boys are known to do: he got fresh with a teacher. But what happened next is part of a growing debate about police in schools.

According to police reports, the boy was called into the teacher’s office. He refused, and bounced a basketball in the hallway. Then a police officer stationed in the school got involved, ordering the boy to go with the teacher. He refused again and slammed a door.

What began as a case of back-talk and bad behavior ended with the boy being cuffed, arrested, hauled downtown and charged with “disturbing a lawful assembly.” Which raises a big question: is this the best way to maintain order and discipline in a school?

Once a rarity, so-called school resource officers are now positioned in 35 percent of American schools. A new study of arrests in Massachusetts’ largest school systems finds these officers making arrests for routine disciplinary problems that might otherwise be handled with detention, or a phone call home.

You can read the study, below:

Guests:

  • Lael Chester, executive director, Citizens for Juvenile Justice
  • The Hon. Jay Blitzman, first justice, Juvenile Court Department,  Middlesex County
  • Lee McGurie, chief communications officer, Boston Public Schools

Other stories from this show:

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  • KJ

    1. What judge wouldn’t dismiss this sort of frivolous suit out of his courtroom? You mean to tell me that a police officer brings a kid into a judge, says to him “timmy was talking back to his elders”, and the judge gives him an actual sentence? If I were that judge, I would laugh in that cops face until he left.
    2. What kind of a cop would bring a kid to court for such trivial matters? Who are we hiring as police officers that they think this is reasonable? Do they realize the disservice they are doing to their brothers in blue?
    3. Doesn’t anyone see a connection between this sort of treatment of children by police, law enforcement and the justice system and the generally negative relationship between communities and law enforcement, especially in poor and urban areas? Kids who are treated this way have every right to hate the police and the justice system if they are being charged with a crime when they do such minor things.

    • NPRJunkie

      These officers would arrest these children in the middle of the day in front of teachers and classmates.  March them out of the building in cuffs, bring them to the police station and often to the courthouse where they were placed in holding until they were assigned an attorney and brought before the judge.  By then, the damage may already be done even if the judge dismissed the case.  Which usually only happened with pre-trial probation.  Therefore, if the child acted up again, in school or anywhere else, they were treated more harshly because they now have a “record.”

  • NPRJunkie

    I was a child advocate attorney in Lowell for about 2 years, 5 years ago.  I complained then about how children were arrested for talking back to a teacher or being disruptive in the hallway.  The arrest reports always charged, disturbing a school assembly.  It’s shameful that teachers are allowed to farm out part of their job to police and the criminal justice system and inadvertently ruining, or at the least endangering, many childrens future.

  • Vox

    interventions and preventions strategies should be utilized in schools, a school can not relay on law enforcement. the juvenile court system and the child welfare system to address dicipline in schools!!!!

  • Guest

    This is an interesting report but I believe too biased.  I have worked in the Boston Public Schools and have come to know many of the School Police Officers.  I know first hand the last thing they want to do is make an arrest.  They will try all other means possible before it comes to an arrest.  However, it is a school setting, how long do you let one person disrupt a classroom, or multiple classrooms?  If you let someone go off on a teacher ranting and raving, disrespecting and so on they have made that class useless and 95% of the students suffer.

    Also, the Boston Public Schools is not like the suburbs. A lot of those shootings and awful things you watch on the news at night is being committed by students from Boston.

    It is sad that school officials can’t handle all the problems in house anymore.  I do think we need to focus on the majority of the students, the 95%+ who want to go and learn in a safe environment that is conducive to learning.  I can’t speak for any of the other school districts but I know the Boston School Police do a fantastic job and use arrest as a last resort.

    • http://twitter.com/kuroikittee Kittee

       I believe you, too, are biased. I was, in fact, a BPS student, and I have seen the more incendiary behavior of these officers. The things you watch on the news are hyper-inflated stories to make average people think the way these officers behave is acceptable which it is not. 

  • Tony Hui

    Wow that very surprised that a 14-years old has bad behavior,that mom needs to teaches her son about behavior or going see a social worker that help the boy with good behavior not like slammed door, and be fresh the teacher is very unexpected behavior at school.

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