MINOT, N.D. — A majority of students in North Dakota, some 53%, attend a school at which there is a police presence.
Far more students in our state, some 74%, attend a school that fails to achieve the student-to-counselor ratio recommended by national organizations like the American School Counselor Association.
Those numbers are from a national report published by the American Civil Liberties Union. They argue our schools need fewer police officers and more counselors.
It’s a compelling one.
The move to put cops in schools is driven in no small part by the hysteria around school shootings.
The flames of which, I should point out, have been fanned by the ACLU as a part of their anti-gun activism.
There have been some sensible initiatives. North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler’s idea to have patrolling cops make regular stop-ins at schools is solid. Most of the push to put uniforms in school hallways is an overreaction.
Despite the attention they get from the national media, not to mention the pundits and politicians, mass shooting attacks on schools are extraordinarily rare.
Since most of the armed-and-armored cops patrolling our school hallways will never face something like that, they are stuck getting involved in routine student discipline matters. The sort of thing handled by teachers and principals in another era.
Per the ACLU, North Dakota has the 14th highest student arrest rate in the nation.
How many of those arrests happen because there was a cop involved, and cops are trained to arrest people?
“When in schools, police officers do what they are trained to do, which is detain, handcuff and arrest,” the ACLU of North Dakota stated in a press release accompanying their report. “This leads to greater student alienation and a more threatening school climate.”
I believe that statement is true.
The United States of America has stringent laws governing the deployment of the military within our borders. These laws exist because we recognize a distinction between soldiers and police officers.
Soldiers are trained to fight wars. We don’t use them to police except perhaps in the most extreme situations such as natural disasters.
Cops, meanwhile, are trained to arrest criminals. If we task them with patrolling school lunchrooms and commons areas, should we be surprised when misbehaving kids get treated like criminals?
Instead of, you know, misbehaving kids?
School resource officers, or SRO’s as they’re known, have a lot of support. Because the public loves law enforcement (especially in North Dakota), and they love the idea of keeping kids safe.
The law enforcement leaders love SRO’s because, like any branch of our government, they’re bureaucrats who tend to be enamored with bigger budgets and bigger payrolls.
But are SRO’s what’s best for the students?
We need counselors. Not cops.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.