“By the early years of the twenty-first century, police had become a normal presence in sites ranging from mental health agencies to hospital emergency rooms to schools to welfare offices,” wrote New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie last Sunday, quoting political scientists Joe Soss and Vesla Weaver. Unlike other interactions with government, this increasing police presence “cleaves citizens away from the traditional political community,” he argued.
Bouie was writing in the wake of the murder of Tyre Nichols by the Memphis police. People’s sense of peaceable democratic control in their communities can be distorted when law enforcement becomes the primary way they encounter government.
Bouie was talking about poor, Black neighborhoods. But his observation applies here, too. At their next town meeting, Truro voters will be asked to hire a full-time “school resource officer” — that is, a uniformed, armed police officer — to be stationed at the Truro Central School. The reason, apparently, is to be better prepared for mayhem.
In explaining this proposal, Truro Police Chief Jamie Calise writes: “Regrettably, there is a national trend toward increased school violence…. There have been 678 school shootings with casualties at elementary and secondary schools in the United States since 2000. For the period of 2019-20, nearly one-third of school shootings reported had occurred at the elementary level.”
But there is no evidence that having police officers in schools prevents shootings. One study, in fact, suggests that their presence increases the chances of gun-related incidents, according to a report in Education Week.
Chief Calise adds that putting cops in schools has “many other benefits,” including “students and staff experiencing increased feelings of safety.”
The Truro school has 99 students in grades pre-K to 5 and 41 adult teachers and support staff. It’s not clear exactly why the children and teachers in this very small, family-like school might feel unsafe — but maybe the chief knows something that I don’t know.
There certainly are a lot of guns out there, but the law prevents us from knowing how many, what kind, or where they are. Gun registration data are exempt from the state’s public records laws. In 2018, the Truro police confiscated a large arsenal — including assault weapons — from a man who had repeatedly threatened to kill the town manager. Calise refused to say where those guns were or whether they had been returned to the owner after a harassment prevention order against him expired.
School resource officers are prohibited from enforcing discipline or school regulations. Maybe that’s why having a police officer assigned to Nauset High School did nothing to help freshman Mia Rubenstein feel safer. She says she was bullied and taunted with anti-Semitic insults and that school administrators responded by saying there was little they could do. Federal investigators found the school’s response shockingly inadequate.
Rather than hiring more police, maybe we need to hire school officials who will protect children instead of each other.