The Problem With Officers On High School Campuses

October 26th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Disturbing video emerged Monday of a Richland County sheriff's deputy manhandling and violently detaining a Columbia, South Carolina high school student who was allegedly being "verbally disruptive" and resisting arrest, according to the sheriff's department. The case raises questions about the growing presence of school resource officers (SROs), full-on police officers assigned for duty in schools, and now the FBI is investigating the incident.

RELATED: Video Shows Police Officer Slamming Student to Ground

BREAKING: Disturbing new video of a police officer using force...

BREAKING: Disturbing new video of a police officer using force against a student in South Carolina.More details here: http://bit.ly/1WeqNs3

Posted by ATTN: on Monday, October 26, 2015

The Spring Valley High School footage recalls a separate incident earlier this month at a Texas high school where an SRO grabbed a student by the neck and slammed him to the ground after allegedly attempting to break up a fight between two students. That two cases involving violent confrontations with SROs should be vaulted into the national spotlight within weeks of one another is noteworthy, but it perhaps is not surprising.


How police officers began patrolling hallways

Since the 1990s, a decade in part defined by the shooting at Columbine High School, SRO presence in K-12 schools has increased nearly 40 percent, accompanied so-called "zero-tolerance" policies for drugs and weapons, and by the requisite hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and district spending supporting SRO presence. But as previous reports have highlighted, many of the same questions and problems that plague street policing beset officers patrolling school hallways.

Data points to varying conclusions around the efficacy of SROs, finding their presence both reduces crime and misbehavior in school, and leads to higher rates of ticketing and arrests for infractions such as, say, disrupting class. Experts like Phillip Stinson, an associate professor in Bowling Green State University's Criminal Justice Program and a researcher who has studied SROs, warn that police officers with little training or education specialization may revert to street crime tactics in schools for minor offenses.

"You criminalize routine school problems because you're involving a police officer," Stinson, who is also a former police officer, told ATTN: in a phone call. "Routine and petty infractions are being criminalized. It was never intended that SROs would engage in that type of work."

"In this instance they're applying a rough, street justice tactics to get this girl out of her chair to wherever [the officer] wanted her to go, and it's just completely inappropriate," Stinson said of Monday's incident.

RELATED: Texas Cop Suspended After Pulling Gun On Black Teens At Pool Party

Police brutality cases exist on school campuses

Along with the two cases this month, there have been a number of recent instances involving students subjected to brutality at the hands of officers assigned to their schools. According to the Huffington Post, which compiled 25 cases of students and faculty across more than a dozen states that had to seek medical attention after confrontations recently, SROs use any number of tactics as control methods, including tasers, pepperspray, and stun guns. Other cases, compiled by Mother Jones, show students being put in chokeholds, beaten with batons, and in at least one case, shot to death.

Research also suggests that minorities and those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by SRO presence. According to federal data from 2011-2012, of the 92,000 students subject to school-related arrests, 31 percent of those arrested were black, though just half that number make up the number of total students enrolled. In addition, 12 percent of enrolled students had disabilities, but they represented a quarter of the total arrested.

A new investigation in South Carolina

After the video surfaced this week, the Richland County Sheriff is now seeking a federal investigation of the incident, USA Today reports. Sheriff Leon Lott has apparently asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department to begin an investigation into what happened Monday at Spring Valley High School.

The incident fits into a string of recent cases involving excessive use of force by an officer, especially when the alleged offender is black. The officer, Ben Fields, was "built like a bodybuilder," had been "brutal for years," and instilled a pointed sense of fear in students there, according to statements given to New York Daily News justice writer Shaun King.

Fields has since been placed on administrative duty, a local CBS affiliate station reported Monday night.

Fields was sued in 2007 over allegations of excessive force, CNN reports. He is also faces another lawsuit from an incident in 2013.

RELATED: James Blake's Mistaken Arrest Highlights NYPD's Excessive Use of Force