Justice Dept. Awards Grants to Put Police in Schools

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Denied tougher gun-control measures in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shooting, the Obama administration is taking a different approach to making classrooms safer: Fund more school security.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice announced late last week that it would distribute $44 million in grants to help schools in 141 cities and counties hire more than 350 security personnel, known as school resource officers.

 

School resource officers are licensed to carry weapons in schools, and are authorized to make arrests. They also function as guidance counselors by providing mentoring and guidance to students.

 

The announcement represents the latest attempt by the Obama administration, which unsuccessfully lobbied for new gun laws earlier this year, to improve school safety following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy last December.

 

“In the wake of past tragedies, it’s clear that we need to be willing to take all possible steps to ensure that our kids are safe when they go to school,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “These critical investments represent the Justice Department’s latest effort to strengthen key law enforcement capabilities and to provide communities with the resources they need to protect our young people. Especially in a time of increased challenges and limited budgets, our top priority must always be the safety and well-being of our children.”

 

Some advocates for safer schools disagreed that the answer is putting more security on campuses.

 

Marc Schindler, director of the Justice Policy Institute, told McClatchy that the move could have “unwanted consequences.”

 

The institute published a report two years ago (“The Case Against Police in Schools”) that said schools with security officers were more likely to have arrests for minor offenses, among other things.

 

“In terms of safe schools, research favors a supporting and nurturing environment based around counselors, social workers and teachers, which makes kids feel that they’re in a safe place,” Schindler said. “Because of rare but high-profile tragedies like Newtown, many are concerned about school safety. I have kids in school and I want them to be safe. . . . Unfortunately, things that sound good are not always the best response.”

 

Whether or not the decision makes schools safer, the federal funding will help boost the number of school resource officers, which already total more than 10,000 in the U.S.—making them the fastest growing area of law enforcement, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

In Bid to Help Prevent Violence, Justice Department Awards Grants for In-school Officers (by Lars Thorvaldsen, McClatchy)

Department of Justice Awards Hiring Grants for Law Enforcement and School Safety Officers (U.S. Department of Justice)

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