Data shows more arrests made without school resource officers in Wake schools

mhankerson@newsobserver.comFebruary 21, 2014 

A federal complaint described the ‘school to prison’ pipeline, which tells of a student getting in trouble at school and ending up in jail. The complaint said it was hard to provide data to prove how Wake County makes the pipeline smoother for its students.

Students under 16 who are referred to the courts aren’t tracked by the school and after 16, students go straight into the criminal court system, although schools don’t keep track of how many students end up on that path, said attorney Jennifer Story who works with the Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children Services.

Her organization is one of several who authored the complaint against Wake County schools.

She said there was no way for the organizations to see how many times a school resource officer may have interrogated a student without proper procedure or used force, like tasers or pepper spray.

“There are no easily accessible or public information available about how often (it happens), when or why,” Story said.

The complaint is also meant to address issues with private security guards and security guards provided by the county. School Resource Officers have come to the forefront of the group because it’s easier to get some information about them, Story said.

“We focus on the SROs because we have information about them,” she said.

Information about SROs

At East Wake Middle School, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office provides school resource officers. From January 2013 to January 2014, there were two assault incidents that resulted in arrests.

Schools in Wendell and Zebulon also have SROs from the county.

At Zebulon Middle, there were 15 incidents in a calendar year. All ended in an arrest.

Wendell Middle also had 15 incidents and all were closed by arrest.

At East Wake High School, there were 53 reported incidents in a year. All but six ended with an arrest and those six incidents are considered active investigations, with the SRO investigating two of those.

According to Knightdale police reports, there were 29 arrests made at Knightdale High School within a year’s time. Police or Knightdale’s resource officer Pete Smith responded to 80 incidents at the school in the same year, with 37 of those calls being larceny.

County-wide, SROs were involved in slightly less than half the arrests that took place. Between January 2013 and January 2014, 242 incidents were closed by arrest without an SRO present. 228 ended with an arrest with an SRO present.

Need for more training

Tavon Bridges, a senior at Knightdale High School and a student organizer with NC HEAT, one of the other complainants, said he’s observed about six or seven different officers on his school’s campus, although Knightdale police have a specific officer assigned to the school.

Wake County Public Schools also budgets money for private security firms to help with security at schools.

Bridges said he doesn’t think the officers’ presence is the problem.

“I don’t feel like there’s lots of policing or arresting at my school,” he said. “I just don’t think my school knows how to handle situations in a proper way. Nothing is a different situation.”

“These officers are operating in our schools on a daily basis,” Story said. “Everyone else has to have specific training to work with students and there are no requirements (for SROs). They just have to be basic law enforcement officers.”

According to an agreement between Wake County Public Schools and the agencies providing SROs, SROs only need to be certified by the state to be eligible for the position. Individual agencies are responsible for selecting which officers will act as SROs.

Smith, Knightdale’s SRO, has attended an SRO training program through the North Carolina Justice Academy, Knightdale police Chief Jason Godwin said.

In the county, all but two of the SROs have attended state SRO training. Those two officers are assigned to West Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh and Zebulon Middle.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Stevens said both of those officers were recently moved to those assignments but they are scheduled to attend SRO training.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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