City Schools Board discusses role of police

Posted at 11:41 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-09 07:24:26-05

The video of a school police officer slapping and kicking a student in Northeast Baltimore last week has led to a larger debate over the role of police in city public schools.

Members of the city's school board heard from people on both sides of that debate at their meeting Tuesday night.

"We are students. we are not enemies or punching bags," said Afiya Irvin, a junior at City College in Baltimore.  "Students shouldn't be criminalized. we need to learn in an environment where we do not feel threatened by the school police officers."

The head of the city's public school system says that one incident should not define the system or its police department.  But advocates of pulling back or even eliminating the school police say the on-camera kicking and slapping of that student was not just a one-time incident.  They say it's also a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Related: Video shows officer hitting, kicking student at Baltimore City school

Dozens of school administrators, teachers and parents also turned out in support of the school police force.  Katrice Wiley is the principal of Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology in Northeast Baltimore.

She said a gun was recently found in her school's parking lot.

"If our kids are not safe they cannot learn," she said.  "I don't feel comfortable in a school as an administrator without school police."

Principal Nikkia Rowe of Renaissance Academy said the role of school police was scaled back this year.  Officers can't carry weapons inside school buildings, so most of the time they don't come in.

Rowe wonders whether an officer in her building might have prevented the stabbing of student Ananias Jolley back in November.  He died nearly a month later.

"It didn't happen before, and I think that we cannot negate the correlation that could exist that school police were in the buildings before and deterred that kind of activity from coming in to our school houses," Rowe said.

But Jenny Egan, a public defender in Baltimore City who represents teens charged with crimes, says studies show that instead of helping, school police can inadvertently steer young people into the criminal justice system.

"When we talk about the horrible incident that happened at REACH! Partnership, that's what happens when you have school police enforcing low-level school discipline," Egan said.

Both of the school police officers seen in the video, and the head of the school police force, have been suspended.

City police are investigating to find out whether charges should be filed.