In wake of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, many Americans are concerned about the militarization of local police. One issue that continues to be downplayed, however, is just how local this arms race has gotten. The Department of Defense (DOD) is funneling paramilitary equipment, not just to municipal and county police departments, but to public schools as well.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to data obtained by NPR from the Pentagon, the federal government has sent weapons of war including guns and tanks to 26 school police departments across the country free of charge, making the public education system’s already tense environment even more hostile to learning.
Just last week, the San Diego Unified School District Police Department announced they had acquired a hand-me-down Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle from the Pentagon. The $733,000 war machine was sent to the department free of charge, as with all surplus equipment in DOD’s Excess Property Program, to fight the supposed crime that lurks in hallways full of young children. One would be hard pressed to find a criminal justification for militarizing San Diego’s schools, considering the Southern California city was ranked the second safest in the US just last year according to a list by CQ Press compiled from FBI statistics. Nevertheless, the military transfers continue to arm America’s public schools.
It’s not just metropolises that are receiving military equipment in their public schools, either. According to the Department of Justice, there are 150 public school police departments across the country, many of which serve small towns with just a few thousands students such as Aledo, Texas (population 2,712) or Granite, Utah (2,092) — both of which regularly experience years without a single murder.
Many of these kindergarten cops are not quiet about the high-tech weaponry they use, either. The Detroit Public Schools Police Department’s website, for example, brags about their “$5.6 million 23,000-sq ft. state of the art Command Center” and “$41.7 million district-wide security initiative” including metal detectors and ID system where visitors’ names are checked against the sex offender registry. High-tech toys like these undoubtedly make an Orwellian nightmare for any parent trying to become involved in their child’s education by speaking to a teacher or visiting a school event.
If any single city’s crime statistics would merit a militarized police, it would certainly be Detroit. However, a successful experiment in another crime-ridden city, Philadelphia, suggests that planting cops playing soldier into America’s schools is more dangerous than the alternative. In 2012, the charter school group American Paradigm Schools took over the administration of John Paul Jones Middle School, locally known as “Jones Jail” for its violent reputation. Rather than beef up the school’s already hefty security system, the new management stripped away its barred windows and metal detectors. Though such a strategy seems counterintuitive, the number of serious incidents at Jones dropped by 90 percent in one school year alone.
Unsurprisingly, treating students like criminals encourages criminal behavior. Treating them humanely, like the maturing youths that they are, yields humane results. For this reason, DOD’s school militarization is not just a waste of taxpayer money but defeats its own mission of keeping schools safer as well. For the sake of facilitating a conducive environment for learning, Americans should stand up against placing warrior cops in our children's schools.