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School policing left out of task force recommendations to make Wake County schools safer

Tonight, the Wake County Board of Education will hear recommendations to make its schools safer—however, the task force put together in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings to develop the safety recommendations did not make school policing one of its areas of consideration, according to Jason Langberg, an attorney for Advocates for Children’s Services and a task force member.

School resources officers (commonly known as SROs) are armed, certified law enforcement officers that are a common fixture in Wake County schools. They are employed by local police departments and the Wake County Sheriff’s Department. Funding for SROs comes from a variety of sources, including local, state and federal funds and grant programs, as well as a special state level fund that is intended to support any school safety measures, not just SROs.

While some contend that the presence of SROs make a school safer, others say that the opposite is frequently the case. Typically, SROs are trained in dealing with criminal actions and not how to handle children’s issues.

“We see more students arrested for minor offenses when there are police officers in schools, leading them into a school-to-prison pipeline and out of the school system,” said Langberg.

Langberg also said that he and other task force members tried to bring the issue of school policing to the attention of the task force’s co-chairs, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison and retired Raleigh police Captain Al White.

“They just didn’t want to go there,” Langberg said.

Keith Sutton, chair of the Wake County Board of Education who served as a moderator for Task Force For Creating Safer Schools in Wake County, which included no teachers, guidance counselors, support staff or students, said that the members didn’t see school policing as a safety issue.

“The issue around school policing has more to do with addressing discipline policies in schools, and it would be more appropriate to review that in a separate discussion,” said Sutton.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison told NC Policy Watch that he and his co-chair let the task force members pick the top 15 things they wanted to present to the board that would improve school safety.

“SROs are already part of the schools,” said Harrison, when he explained that school policing was not a high priority for task force members who were considering how to improve school safety.

According to Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc., research shows that in Wake County, a disproportionate number of African-American students are sent to the juvenile system because of minor misbehaviors at school. During the 2010-2011 state fiscal year, 74.3 percent of school-based delinquency complaints were filed against African-American students, even though they made up only 24.7 percent of the public school student body.

The Wake County Board of Education meets tonight to consider the school safety recommendations.

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