CONTACT: Evan Serpick
Statement by the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline about Baltimore School Police in light of incident at REACH! Partnership School
BALTIMORE (March 2, 2016) – Like much of the Baltimore community, we were deeply disturbed by a video that recently emerged showing a uniformed Baltimore School Police (BSP) officer repeatedly slapping and kicking a student at REACH! Partnership School in East Baltimore. While we were encouraged by the fact that the officer and school police chief Marshall Goodwin were placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, it is clear that the problems within BSP go far beyond this incident and require systemic reform.
We don’t yet know all the details of the most recent incident at REACH!, but there have been several incidents of school police using unwarranted force against children in our schools, in effect criminalizing students in our education system. Last year a BSP officer was convicted for assault after repeatedly beating a 13-year-old student at Vanguard Collegiate Middle School in the head with a baton and pepper spraying two other students, while other adults and students looked on. In that case the students were arrested and expelled until surveillance video surfaced that contradicted the officer’s testimony that she was attacked.
The Baltimore City community needs to have a serious conversation about whether police belong in schools at all. If police are going to be in schools, there must be appropriate oversight, comprehensive training, proper arrest and use of force data collection, and total transparency with the public regarding all of these factors. Currently, the school police force of about 150 reports to a director-level staff person who reports to several levels of administrators within the Baltimore City Public School System with no outside oversight. That is unacceptable and potentially dangerous.
There is currently a serious lack of accountability for bad actors among school police. Officers who engage in unwarranted violent conduct or those who witness this conduct and fail to report or act, do not belong in schools with our children. The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has acknowledged the importance of creating definitive School Police policies that would clearly define the role of police in our schools; create obligatory data-sharing practices; and call for specific, child development related annual training. Unfortunately the School Board’s commitment to take these steps has not filtered down to School Police or to the City Schools officials who oversee School Police. BSP officers must be trained in de-escalation techniques, conflict resolution, restorative approaches appropriate for children and young adults, and in dealing with students with disabilities.
If police are going to be in our schools, they must be a positive, supportive force that creates safer environments for our children. Current trends in BSP practices risk criminalizing our children and feeding young students directly into the school-to-prison pipeline. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that our students are respected, treated humanely and not victimized by the very persons hired to protect them.
The Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline includes Advocates for Children and Youth, ACLU of Maryland, FreeState Legal, GLSEN Baltimore, Maryland Disability Law Center, NAACP Maryland State Conference, NAACP Montgomery County, MD Branch, Office of the Public Defender, Open Society Institute-Baltimore, and the Sarya and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children, and the Courts.