October 31, 2015
School Resource Officers
By Chris Norby
Dear FJUHSD Board Members:
The violent classroom arrest recently of a South Carolina high school student by a uniformed police officer has raised questions about the routine presence of law enforcement in public high schools. Including Fullerton’s.
Are these “school resource officers” really necessary, or do they turn routine campus infractions into criminal cases? The girl in question was defiant and refused reasonable requests to surrender her cell phone. However, was this cause to call a police offer into the classroom and the inevitable confrontation?
All of our six Fullerton Joint Union High School District (FJUHSD) high schools have had full time officers assigned for the past two decades. At FHS, where my son and daughter attend, a police car prominently parked in the red zone on Pomona Ave. nearly every day, blocking traffic and giving the impression that there was always trouble on campus. There wasn’t. (At parental request, the car now parks in a more discrete spot).
While a teacher at Brea-Olinda H.S. I questioned the need for a uniformed campus resource officer to be scurrying kids to class or checking for smoking in the boys’ bathroom. Most days he spent in the office hanging out with secretaries and administrators. Teachers (myself included) once broke up campus fights ourselves, then sent the kids off to class. We didn’t need intervention of the Brea Police Dept. and the students did not need the criminal record that such a school fracas can now create.
While on the Fullerton City Council I questioned the value of city-paid uniformed police officers assigned to our campuses. Certainly they should be on call when real crime occurs, but a constant presence risks turning routine campus discipline into police business.
Classroom cell phone use can be disruptive and defiance of a teacher is a suspendable offense, but does it require an arrest? With 14,000 full-time police officers now posted in U.S. high schools, such incidents as occurred in South Carolina are inevitable.
Parents, teachers and administrators working together can effectively maintain student discipline and keep schools safe. Police intervention should be a last resort and for serious crimes—not for routine discipline or to escalate playground fights or student pranks into criminal matters.
Let’s take a fresh look at the presence of police on our high schools, when they are called, how they are utilized and to whom they are accountable. If such a discussion is held at a future Board meeting, I would love to be part of the conversation.