By Kofi Annan:
We have the opportunity in Fairfax County to change the role of police officers in public schools – to reduce the possibility of racial profiling and make policies more transparent and accountable to parents.
The need for this is apparent. Children are being arrested in our schools for minor offenses that can be dealt with better by administrative means. Moreover, African American and Latino students are arrested at significantly higher levels than their White or Asian counterparts.
In response to public concern, the county Board of Supervisors and School Board have set up a 15-member committee representing a broad cross section of community groups to advise them on revising the policy on police in schools.
The School Resource Officer Community Review Committee aims to submit its recommendations later this month. Then the supervisors and school board will finalize the draft of a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Police Department so that the new policy can take effect with the opening of schools on August 28.
The committee had its first meeting on July 2, attended by an overflow audience of concerned citizens. The second meeting will be held on Monday July 9 at 7 pm at the Government Center. The public is invited.
The Fairfax County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) prompted the review after discovering troubling data on arrests by police in schools.
While parents assume that SROs dedicate most of their time towards keeping students safe, and preventing events like school shootings, the reality is much different. In 2017 alone in county public schools, there were 55 arrests for disorderly conduct, 52 arrests for trespassing, and 20 arrests for grand larceny — many of which were charged to children as young as twelve years old.
Presumably many if not most of these did not rise to the level of chargeable crimes and could have been handled by administrators, or by giving a warning, rather than inflicting the trauma of the police and judicial system on these children.
Another alarming fact is that African American and Latino students are disproportionately subject to arrests. In the case of African Americans, students accounted for 30% of arrests – three times their proportion of the school population, 10%.
The key proposals before the committee include:
— Narrow School Resource Officer (SRO) scope of responsibility to potentially life-threatening situations or serious drug offenses involving attempts to distribute.
— Prohibit SROs from being considered as administrators – they are law enforcement officers and should act and be evaluated accordingly
— End the practice by SROs of “monitoring cultural influences” and “stop and frisk”, which are prone to give rise to racial profiling
— Empower parents to intervene on their children’s behalf.
We invite all to attend the committee’s next meeting and make their voices heard in order to bring more transparency, fairness and effectiveness to the role of police officers in our schools.
Kofi Annan is the president of the Fairfax County NAACP and serves on the SRO Community Review Committee. He is a member of the Dranesville District Democratic Committee. He founded and leads Veterans Career Counseling Services, which offers staffing solutions to companies seeking to hire veterans.