Denver, Seattle Schools Terminate Police Contracts
The push for removing police from schools and diverting funds toward social supports for students has gained traction following the killing of George Floyd.
While the topic of removing police officers from public schools has been an ongoing debate for years as statistics consistently show black students are arrested at disproportionately high levels, the push has gained serious momentum in recent weeks.
Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officers, the Minneapolis School Board voted to terminate its contract with the department. Now, other large districts are doing the same.
The Denver School Board unanimously voted Thursday to end its contract with the city’s police department, reports The Washington Post. Four police officers will be phased out by the end of the year and the remaining 13 officers will be phased out by mid-2021. Instead, there will be unarmed safety officers who will be unable to issue citations or make arrests.
“Last night we voted to end the contract with Denver Police, but this was never about an individual officer. It was about dismantling a system that has held children of color down for far too long,” said board member Tay Anderson. “I know that this change comes with critics and doubts on our ability to lead this district forward, but together we will craft a brighter future to ensure all students are safe in our schools and are no longer thrusted into the school-to-prison pipeline.”
In Denver, during the 2018-19 school year, 29% of referrals to law enforcement were for black students, despite black students accounting for only 13% of the district’s student population, according to U.S. News. From 2014 through 2019, 87% of 4,540 police tickets and arrests were issued to students of color.
Last Wednesday, the Seattle School Board voted to suspend its contract with police for a year. Also last week, the Oakland (Calif.) School Board backed a proposal to eliminate the district’s internal police force and reallocate those funds toward social workers, psychologists and other health professionals. Similarly, earlier this month, Campus Safety reported that Portland Public Schools will no longer have city police officers patrolling its nine high schools. It will instead increase spending on social workers, counselors and culturally-specific supports for students.
Civil rights activists have long been pushing for the removal of police, arguing the money put into school resources officers (SRO) could be better spent on social supports for students. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shows there are 10 million students in schools with police but no social workers. The same report also found there are 14 million students in schools with police but no counselor, psychologist, social worker or nurse.
Other Cities, Districts Feeling the Pressure
On Sunday, as Chicago Public Schools (CPS) hosted a virtual graduation ceremony, some graduates instead decided to participate in a march for police-free schools and reinvesting some of the $33 million security contract CPS holds with the police into community-based programs, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
Sixteen-year-old Derrianna Ford, a student at Mather High School in Chicago, told The Washington Post that her school has just one counselor and no full-time nurse. Any time a student is sick or injured, it is a police officer that responds.
“Even if you hurt yourself, they’re calling the SRO,” Ford said. “The first thing you should call is a nurse — but our nurses are only here Tuesday. If you’re not hurt on Tuesday, it’s your loss.”
Caleb Reed, who is also a student at Mather High School, said school resource officers often make things worse. Reed was arrested two years ago when he walked away from an officer after he asked for his student identification at a basketball game.
“I felt angry. My emotions felt big,” Reed said. “But I tried to stay humble — because they expect that from every black person. They expect every black person to act out. I think they see us as dangerous.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she is not prepared to make any big moves, indicating she would not take funding away from Chicago PD, nor will she withdraw the contract the department has with CPS.
“Unfortunately, we need security in our schools,” she said. “We spent a lot of time a year ago working through challenges we had seen with police officers in our schools.”
Similarly, last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would not be removing NYPD police officers from its public schools.
“I personally believe that the better approach is to continue what we have but improve it, reform it,” he said. “Whatever we do, it has to start from a safety perspective first, but it can also come with a lot of transformation in terms of building relationships, hearing young people, hearing families differently and better.”
However, de Blasio said he would cut NYPD’s $6 billion budget by $1 billion for fiscal year 2021 and would divert funds into social programs within the city. He also announced an additional $10 million expansion of Cure Violence, a program that uses local residents to stop violence on city streets.
“The truest solutions come from the grassroots,” he said. “Lives will be saved. Violence will be reduced.”