Download “Policing Chicago Public Schools .”
“Footage from up to 80 high-definition cameras could be monitored by CPS and will be fed to a nearby police station, then linked into the citywide network of surveillance cameras. That network includes cameras operated by the Chicago Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and Communications and Chicago Transit Authority. Images from the cameras can also be viewed on officials’ cellphones.”
When news of this proposal surfaced, some critics suggested that at a time when CPS is facing a budget deficit of over $600 million dollars, such an investment in new surveillance equipment was questionable at best. Some supporters argued that the district would eventually save money because the cameras would reduce the need for police officers in schools. It fell to student Alan Zavala quoted in the Tribune article to point out the obvious: “They’re criminalizing us,” Zavala said. “They’re treating us like we’re in prison.” The preoccupation in many urban public schools with security — driven by fear and the obligation to keep our children relatively safe — has unfortunately engendered an explicit school-to-prison connection.
In the 21st century, it is verboten to question whether cops should even be in schools. Police officers in our schools have become synonymous with “safety.” It is taken for granted that they belong in our classrooms. In an interview about his school discipline research, sociologist Aaron Kupchick (2010) gives voice to this reality:
As part of my research, I interviewed students, and one of the questions that seemed like a good idea at the start was asking them whether they liked having the SROs [school resource officers] in their schools. For me, having gone to public schools without cops, this really seemed odd to me, to put police officers in peaceful schools. And the students were puzzled by this question, and I quickly realized that it makes no sense to them because it’s all they’ve ever known. It’s completely normal. It makes about as much sense as if you asked them, “Should your school have a principal?”
Police officers are considered so essential that when CPS gave high schools the opportunity this summer to exchange their police officers for $25,000 in return, only four (4) schools gave up both of their assigned officers while a dozen (12) gave up one of their cops. In 2010, there were 122 high schools in the CPS system. This means that only 3 percent of schools were interested in giving up both of their assigned officers while another 10 percent were willing to part with only one.
The Chicago Police Department (CPD) charges CPS $25 million a year for two police officers at each high school. But because the district hasn’t paid the full amount in previous years, it will have to pay $70 million in the 2011 school year. CPS estimates that it costs $75,000 a year to have a police officer stationed at a school for daily 8 hour shifts. A coalition of student researchers, called Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), found that: “In 2010, Chicago Public Schools spent $51.4 million on school-based security guards, about 15 times more than the $3.5 million it spent on college and career coaches.” As education budgets shrink, it makes sense to question schools’ heavy investment in policing, surveillance and security
Though school police officers date back to the 1950s, they did not become prevalent until the 1990s. A spate of school shootings in the 90s convinced the Federal government to allocate resources to local school districts for the hiring of law enforcement officials. Today about 35 percent of elementary, middle and high schools have police officers. As a result, many of our schools have become the gateway for young people’s involvement in the juvenile and adult criminal legal systems.
In the last 15 years, advocates, students, educators, and researchers have pointed out the existence of a school-to-prison pipeline (STPP). The STPP describes how harsh school discipline policies and law enforcement policies intersect to feed young people into the prison system. Police officers play a critical role in this pipeline and many of them seem to recognize this fact. A school police officers’ union in California recently created an uproar by designing and selling t-shirts depicting a young boy behind prison bars with the words: “U Raise Em, We Cage Em.” The local community was rightly incensed by this; yet it should not have come as a surprise that cops see their role in schools as arresting and incarcerating young people.We can be fooled into believing that schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and police officers feel safe to students, teachers, and staff. However, data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) suggests something different:
“it is the quality of relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality relationships.”
In addition, the presence of police officers in our schools often has negative ramifications for students. A new national study by the Justice Policy Institute titled “Education Under Arrest” makes a convincing case that:
“…when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.”
 Sullivan, J (8/29/10) – America’s real school safety problem. http://www.salon.com/2010/08/29/homeroom_security_ext2010/
 Karp, Sarah. “Citing Safety, Most High Schools Keeping Police.” Catalyst Chicago (10/28/11) – http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/notebook/2011/10/28/citing-safety-most-high-schools-keeping-police
 Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (2011). “Failed Policies, Broken Futures: The True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago. http://www.voyceproject.org/sites/default/files/VOYCE%20report%202011.pdf
 The “School to Prison Pipeline” describes the reality that many young people are being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and adult legal systems because of harsh discipline policies, high stakes testing, and social oppression.
 Sacramento Bee (11/15/11). Twin Rivers Police Association stops sales of controversial T-shirts. http://www.sacbee.com/2011/11/01/4020655/twin-rivers-police-association.html#ixzz1ceD29OXC
 Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E. and David W. Johnson (May, 2011). Student and Teacher Safety in Chicago Public Schools: The Roles of Community Context and School Social Organization. http://ccsr.uchicago.edu/publications/SAFETY%20IN%20CPS.pdf