116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Ongoing Cedar Rapids school district conversations and data analysis have made it increasingly clear: School resource officers (SROs) do not belong in our public schools.
The Des Moines School District and other districts in Iowa are moving toward ending their SRO programs and Cedar Rapids should do the same. There’s no evidence SROs make anyone more safe, but there is plenty of evidence that their presence wrongly feeds students into the juvenile justice system, creating what has been called the school-to-jail pipeline.
A police officer is not a friend. An SRO may say they are your friend one minute, but then after you confide in them, arrest you or your peers in the next.
In Cedar Rapids, as elsewhere, it’s Black students who bear the brunt of overpolicing in our schools. Black students make up just 19 percent of the Cedar Rapids student population but make up a whopping 61 percent of juvenile complaints.
It’s the same in dozens of schools across Iowa, with SROs interacting with children as young as six in elementary, middle and high schools. Nationally, SROs are in 71 percent of our nation’s schools.
This is so wrong, for so many reasons.
School districts allocate a good deal of their precious funding to SROs. Cedar Rapids schools have seven SROs, and the program costs the school district $476,479 a year. But there is no evidence that increased police presence in schools improves school safety. In a number of recent school shootings nationally, for example, an armed security guard or SRO was on duty.
Meanwhile, what can be documented is that having an SRO causes real harm. These armed police officers posted in schools do exactly what they are trained to do — question, detain, handcuff and arrest. This leads to greater student alienation, a more threatening school environment and funneling students unnecessarily into the criminal justice system.
A scuffle in the lunchroom can turn into time in juvenile court. Taking and hiding someone’s expensive phone as a joke can end up with an arrest for a felony. Schools with dedicated police officers are more than three times as likely to face charges than their peers in schools without them.
Many SROs try to serve a hybrid role — as a “friend” to troubled kids and someone who encourages tough discussions about drug use. But a police officer is not a friend. An SRO may say they are your friend one minute, but then after you confide in them, arrest you or your peers in the next.
We also have to ask what message is being sent to students, when armed police officers are walking their hallways. This does not create the type of learning environment we want to foster.
In an era when every week seems to bring a new and horrible video of a Black person being wrongly shot by a police officer, eliminating SROs in our school has taken on a new and urgent meaning. A national ACLU report documents incredibly troubling figures on the over-policing of students in our state:
- Iowa is among the 10 worst states for arrests of minority students in schools, with 125 black students arrested per 10,000 students. That compares to 31 white students arrested per 10,000.
- Black girls in Iowa are nine times more likely to be arrested at school than white girls, one of the worst rates in the country.
- Students with disabilities in Iowa have an arrest rate seven times that of students without disabilities.
Eliminating SROs in our schools and investing those savings into trained mental health workers would be an excellent step toward keeping our children healthier and safer.
In Cedar Rapids, we urge the School Board, superintendent and City Council to come to agreement on what we feel is an increasingly clear fact: Our schools need fewer cops and more counselors.
Mark Stringer is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.