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The Problem of Volunteer School Resource Officers

The North Carolina General Assembly released its compromised budget on Sunday night.  A look at the budget shows that public education is no longer a priority for this legislature.  While there are several things that are problematic about this budget, there one issue in particular that we wish to highlight. The legislature created a volunteer school safety resource program.  While there were bills that concerned school safety, including a volunteer marshal program, this provision coming in the budget is somewhat surprising.

In a reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the General Assembly created a volunteer school safety resource officer program.  Research demonstrates that school resources officers escalate adolescent behavior into criminal behavior.  Paid school resource officers do not receive enough training.  There is no reason to believe that volunteer officers will be better trained than their salaried counterparts.  When law enforcement is involved the likelihood of suspensions or expulsions expand.  If a student is 16 or 17 years old, an adolescent schoolyard fight can lead to adult consequences since North Carolina is one of two states that send 16 and 17 years old to the adult court system.  The evidence also shows us that children of color will have disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system.

This provision is also troubling because it smacks of the posses of the Wild West.  But this is not an old Western movie because students become a part of the very real school-to-prison pipeline.  Even though the volunteers are required to have a law enforcement background, work as a police officer is different from work as a school resource officer.  The job requires an understanding of brain development and why children and adolescents do some of the things they do.  Volunteers may also have a background as military police.  Military training is different than law enforcement training.  The effort and time that it would take to train volunteer school resource officer could be better used to safety issues that we know work like positive behavioral intervention and supports.

The truth is that we cannot stop random unpredictable people who wish to harm our children.  We can, however, protect our children from the overcriminalization of their conduct by preventing the very predictable possibilities of volunteer school resources officers.

This is by no means the only troubling issue in this budget but it certainly needs to be addressed.  Although this budget is likely to pass, we cannot allow matters as important as this to go through without dissent.

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