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Cedar Rapids schools see 70% drop in student arrests since changes to school resource officer program
But more Black students still are being arrested than white students
CEDAR RAPIDS — Fewer students are being criminally charged and more continue to be diverted from arrest in the Cedar Rapids Community School District after changes were made last year to its school resource officer program.
But even with a more than 70 percent reduction in student arrests, more Black students are being arrested than white students.
“The big challenge this school year was how can we do things differently?” Washington High School Principal Darius Ballard said during a school board meeting Monday evening. “Last year was the first time we looked at the data and asked ourselves what we can do to improve.”
School officials work on preventive measures to de-escalate a situation and help students avoid arrest, Ballard said. Restorative conversations seeking a solution are happening student-to-student and teacher-to-student.
Sometimes, the students and their families meet, shake hands and have a restorative conversation. Other times, school administrators will briefly rearrange students’ schedule to give them a cooling-off period from another student.
“It’s giving them space as a safety tool, so both parties can enjoy school,” Ballard said.
Spencer Watts, a school resource officer at Washington High, said Ballard is challenging him and the staff to “think outside the box.”
“Every situation at Washington, we take a step back and not rush in to charging,” Watts said. "We take a look at what’s going on in the kids’ life at home or something else bothering them, and we can come up with a solution usually every time.“
Districtwide, two Black students were arrested and four diverted from arrest in December 2021, and one Black student was arrested and four diverted from arrest in January.
Three white students were arrested and three diverted from arrest in December 2021, and one white student was arrested and two diverted from arrest in January.
This trend of decreasing arrests continued since changes to the school resource officer program were implemented in November 2021.
Comparing August through November data from 2018 with August through November data from this year, there has been an 88.4 percent reduction in charges for white high school students and a 78.7 percent reduction in charges for Black high school students, according to December 2021 school board documents.
One of the changes made to the school resource officer program is expanding the number of charges that can qualify for diversion from arrest. In late 2020, 11 charges such as possession of tobacco as a minor, possession of alcohol as a minor and minor theft were added to the diversion program.
Diversion measures include preventive conversations and investigations, safety plans, restorative conversations and parent meetings. Other changes implemented include:
- School resource officers wearing “soft uniforms” or school gear, except for during the winter months of January and February;
- School resource officer assistance plan implemented for K-8 buildings;
- School resource officers working with building principals on facilitating, leading and organizing lock down drills;
- And school officials collecting monthly data reports from the Cedar Rapids Police Department and reviewing the data as a team.
Last year, data from the Iowa Department of Human Rights showed that Black students in Cedar Rapids schools were six times more likely to have allegations of criminal wrongdoing made against them than white students.
Less than 3 percent of all students were arrested by school resource officers over a four-year period. Black students, however, were arrested at higher rates than white students. Black students make up 19.1 percent of the student population.
The district and Cedar Rapids police set joint goals of reducing arrests and charges filed against all students by 50 percent or more, and bringing a 50 percent or greater reduction in the disproportionate number of arrests of Black students.
An amended agreement for the school resource officer program — under which city police officers operate in some schools — was approved in October by the Cedar Rapids City Council and in November by the school board.
The school board is expected to vote on a new contract with the Cedar Rapids Police Department this spring.
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