New Studies on Schools and Policing: At what cost?

My dissertation explores some of the negative spillover effects of the “school-to-prison pipeline” dynamic- a trend encompassing increasing use and severity of school discipline, increased interaction with the criminal justice system in schools, zero-tolerance policies, and public schools that look more like prisons than educational facilities. I’m interested in understanding how these measures impact students, both those students directly impacted by discipline but also those exposed to these “carceral” school environments. One specific area to look at is how police in and around schools impact student outcomes. Do cops in schools make students safer, or are there negative spillover effects of creating a more carceral school environment?

A few new publications begin to explore the relationship between policing, schools, and student outcome. Owens (2015) uses administrative data on school resource officers and federal hiring grants to show that the placement of law enforcement officers in schools gives officers more information on crime in schools and increases the likelihood of arrests for those crimes. The study also shows that these additional hires aid in drug chargers both on and of school campuses and increase crime reporting in neighborhoods. Owens’ study however does not interrogate what the impacts on student outcomes are associated with increased SRO hiring, and if anything, illuminates the effectiveness of school policing in creating “school-to-prison pipeline” dynamics. Weisburst (2019) uses data on federal grants for Community Oriented Policing Services in Texas, to show that the increasing placement of police officers in schools associated with these grants increases middle school discipline rates by 6 percent, with Black students experiencing the largest increases. These grants are also associated with a 2.5 percent decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4 percent decrease in college enrollment. Legewie and Fagan (2019) use innovative data on policing surges associated with Operation Impact in New York City to show how these surges impact educational outcomes for students. Using administrative data, they show that exposure to these surges reduces test scores for Black boys, and the effect increases with age.

These studies begin to shed light on some of the distinctly negative impacts that school policing may have for educational outcomes. Specifically, these dynamics negatively impact Black students (often boys) more so than other groups, contributing to racial inequality and stratification. 

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