WINCHESTER – The prom of 1997 was the first time Carl Rush, then aged of Handley High School, had been arrested by a police officer.
Rush, who is black, was nervous when the white officer approached his car. Then he admitted it was Constable Craig Smith, who was Handley’s School Resources Officer at the time. Smith, now retired, had arrested Rush to let him know he had a headlight turned off, and the two had a cordial conversation because they knew each other.
“This interaction shaped my perspective on interactions with police,” said Rush, now the Equity and Community Engagement Coordinator for Winchester Public Schools. “The value of having an agent in the school system, or being in contact with agents in the school system, is invaluable. “
Rush told the story at a meeting on Tuesday hosted by the Winchester Police Department and NAACP Chapter 7127 regarding the role of the police in Winchester Public Schools. The meeting, attended by around 25 people, was the first in a series designed to educate the public about the police and allow residents to provide feedback to the police.
While some communities have police officers assigned to all or most of the schools, in Winchester they are stationed at Daniel Morgan Middle School and Handley. Ray Rice, a police officer since 2017, has been Daniel Morgan’s school resources officer since last year and Officer Sisredo Sosa, hired in 2018, starts at Handley in August.
They are among the 20,000 ORS assigned to at least 42% of the country’s approximately 98,000 schools, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. The estimate is based on statistics from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice.
Between 11 and 75 school shootings took place each year between 2000 and last year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the DOE. While only about 0.02% of schools are affected each year, high-profile shootings like the massacres at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1998 and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 have increased police presence in schools. . Supporters say officers provide security and build relationships with students, but opponents say they criminalize teenage behavior, with minority students disproportionately affected.
Rice, however, said he was rarely involved in disciplinary matters in college, where there had only been seven brawls in the past school year, police said. There were nine fights at Handley. If there is a fight between the students, Rice said charges are only filed if a parent asks for them. If a student assaults a school employee, arrests are only made if the staff member requests it.
Rice said her days were filled walking the school grounds, bonding with the students. “This rapport that I am building now will help me later with this student if he is in crisis.”
When Chief John R. Piper was hired in 2017, he changed ORSs from wearing polo shirts and khaki pants to their patrol uniforms. In addition to preventing the possibility of an ORS in civilian clothes being mistakenly shot by police during a school shootout, the Switch was designed to make children more comfortable wearing the uniform. For children who may have seen police come to their homes to respond to violence or make an arrest, they may have associated the uniform with traumatic experiences.
School officials at the meeting said staff and SROs take into account that a child’s bad behavior may be due to a seizure. A student who sleeps in class may be because his parents have been kicked out of their home. Or a child may be unruly due to trauma related to drug use or domestic violence in their home.
Piper said Rice’s interactions with students is an example of the Winchester police not disciplining minority students on the basis of racial profiling, a practice known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“You will see him walking down the hall and he will have children all over his arms. He’s worshiped there, ”Piper said. “It does a credit to what the program should and can be. “
But Guss Morrison, first vice president of the NAACP local, questioned the effectiveness of police parking at Winchester schools, noting the low level of violence compared to schools in large cities. He mentioned that about $ 1.1 million is spent annually on SROs in Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties and wonders if the money might not be better spent on increasing school staff to help students at risk.
In Winchester public schools there are approximately 13 counselors for the 4,155 students in the district. This equates to 319 students per advisor.
“Additional staff would be more beneficial and have a more positive influence and more effectively reduce the extent to which our children become affiliated with the juvenile justice system,” said Morrison. “This school-to-prison problem is a serious problem for our black men.”
In addition to ORS, the local juvenile justice system was discussed. Michelle Miller, a deputy Commonwealth lawyer in Winchester who works at the Frederick / Winchester Juvenile and Family Relations Court, said the court prioritized rehabilitation over punishment. For non-violent offenses, young offenders are generally placed in diversion programs rather than being prosecuted.
When those programs fail, Miller said offenders are typically put on probation and receive services such as drug or mental health treatment or family counseling. While felony convictions remain on a minor’s record, misdemeanors are expunged at age 19 or after five years of absence of charges after conviction, whichever occurs first.
Miller, who spent five years as a deputy public defender before becoming a deputy prosecutor in 2019, noted that the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. She said that the problems children face in court are often due to impulsive behavior due to their age.
“We always keep this at the forefront of our minds when deciding what to do with a specific load,” Miller said. “We often change the charges or dismiss them altogether. It has been very, very rare in my seven years of working in this court that I have seen a person under the age of 18 convicted of a felony.