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Viewpoints: The facts should drive policy, not emotion

Once upon a time, but this is not a fairy tale, I taught in an inner-city high school with 1500 students. Gang warfare was rampant, and over 100 youths under the age of 21 were killed, citywide, by gun violence during my last 10 years teaching. Most of my students had lost a friend or relative to guns. Drive by shootings were commonplace, and teachers were warned to leave school immediately at the end of the day. There was a school resource officer in the building.

More teenage girls became pregnant in a given year than graduated high school. One of my better students was caught performing a sex act in the cafeteria during lunch. A student was killed shortly after he left the prom. Does this resemble Conant High School?

Research evidence (“National Assessment of SRO Programs,” Department of Justice, 2005, “Police Officers in Schools; Effects on School Crime,” Justice Quarterly, October 2011, ACLU, “Policing in Schools” August, 2009, Center for Problem-Oriented Policies Conference, October 2012) shows that SRO programs are not effective in reducing crime.

Most studies that support SROs are methodologically flawed in that they consist primarily of anecdotal accounts and not empirical data, e.g., SRO officers are asked if they are doing a good job.

The primary benefit of an SRO officer is that he makes students feel secure, but many are frightened by the presence of an armed officer.

Research shows many drawbacks to SRO programs: 1) violations of students’ rights; 2) SRO officers are not trained to be teachers or mentors; 3) increase in percentages of schools reporting serious crimes; 4) increased dropout rates for at-risk students; 5) youth criminality not significantly impacted by SROs; 6) social, academic and psychological problems are interpreted as criminal ones; 7) improvements in schools with SROs are often results of other factors, e.g., better teacher training and introduction of uniforms.

I would like to deal with arguments I heard at public meetings in support of SROs: “We should not bury our heads in the sand. Look at the violence in the nation and the world.”

What does violence in Aleppo and Damascus, Syria, have to do with adolescent behavior in Jaffrey and Rindge?

Violent crimes in America involving guns have dropped from 1.3 million in 1994 to 350,000 in 2011 (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics). Homicide and mass murder rates have been declining for 20 years (Grant Duwe, “Mass Murder in the U.S.: A History”). There has been no increase in the number of mass murders, (James Fox, criminologist at Northeastern University). Mass murders are extremely rare (Christopher Uggen, University of Minnesota).

Also, not one person at public meetings in Jaffrey and Rindge suggested that SROs be place in all four district schools. SROs are not, after all, security guards.

“Even if one student is helped, an SRO is worth it.” Applying that logic, we should hire 10 SROs to help 10 students. An empathetic teacher, administrator, coach or guidance counselor can help far more than one student a year.

“Bullying is such a terrible problem.” Properly trained and aware teachers and administrators stop bullying. I did.

There are other ways to provide school security besides the SRO program.

Supt. O’Neill wisely recommended using the almost $80,000 for an SRO for other educational needs. The Jaffrey-Rindge School Board prudently agreed with him.

Educational policy should be driven by facts and not emotions.

Rick Sirvint is a Rindge resident and the Rindge budget advisor to the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District.

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