Vallas: Ousting Chicago police from schools could boost violence

Vallas: Ousting Chicago police from schools could boost violence

The Chicago Board of Education is limiting students’ education options and now is putting their safety at greater risk. Bowing to the Chicago Teachers Union’s ‘defund the police’ ideology can expose students to more violence.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s appointed school board is pushing to remove all Chicago Police Department officers from city schools, but the decision comes at the risk of student and school safety.

This move follows their recent resolution to limit quality public school choices for low-income families by eliminating selective enrollment high schools and charter schools. The board’s focus on making schools less safe while reducing quality school options seems foolish and reckless. Poor and minority students will have fewer choices for schools that are both good quality and safe

The intent of placing Chicago Police officers in high schools is to defend and deter active shooters. I saw this firsthand serving as a superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn., when one of my teachers lost her child during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy. Sandy Hook now has a police officer in its schools.

The push to remove police officers is driven ideologically by the Chicago Teachers Union as part of their work to defund police. It will harm students.

Police are essential for school safety

During the past 15 years, there has been a significant increase in school shootings: 82 in 2023, steadily rising from 18 in 2008.

Last year, the unimaginable happened: four students were shot at Benito Juarez High School and two were killed. The Local School Council for Juarez High School had previously voted to remove Chicago Police officers.

The alarming rise in youth crime, and the related rise in violent crime, underscores the need to maintain a police presence on school campuses. The University of Chicago Crime Lab reported a 50% increase in murders among school-age youth since 2019, with 8% of murder arrests and 9% of shooting arrests involving school-age individuals.

Most narratives about having Chicago Police officers in schools are false

Police don’t target minority students: On the issue of police targeting Black and minority students, let’s remember Black and Latino children comprise almost 82% of the student population. Those rates are higher in the non-selective enrollment high schools.

Police officers don’t divert funding from school programs: The Chicago Public Schools has never spent more than 1% of its budget to reimburse the city for police officers. The total cost is roughly $10 million of the school district’s $9.4 billion budget.

Police are careful with their authority in schools: Beyond protecting against active shooters and dealing with serious disturbances, most police action is initiated by the principal and in response to calls from the faculty. Many principals have misused the police and called them to do things they are not specifically trained for.

Recommendations for protecting students

The city would do well to keep officers in schools by creating a special program made up of carefully selected candidates, best suited for interacting with students and faculty.

Create a school resource officer program. A school resource officer program would be a specially trained unit, under a separate Chicago Police Department commander, whose officers would not only serve as first responders in emergencies inside schools but also act as liaisons between the police department and schools. These incidents could include inappropriate behavior on the part of adults within and outside the schools, domestic violence incidents, bullying, gang intimidation, and other health and safety needs that may arise.

Place a school resource officer in every public school, not just high schools. This program could create hundreds of additional police officer positions, which will become available to local police districts on the 165 days schools are closed. This way they are available for the city during the holidays and summer when crime spikes and police officer shortages are most acute. These would become officers who know the youth and are known and trusted by the youth, creating familiarity and trust. That’s the backbone of effective community policing.

Removing Chicago Police officers from public schools is a mistake with potentially tragic consequences. It is driven by misinformation and ideology and naively ignores the escalating violence engulfing our youth. The new school board’s time would be better spent developing a plan to create a school safety program that ensures a police presence in more schools and uses officers effectively.

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