More than 70 police officers spend their days in Chicago public high schools, but the school district doesn’t keep track of who they are, nor does it have an agreement with the police department dictating how they are chosen, trained and what specifically they should do.
These are the findings of a report released Thursday by the City of Chicago Inspector General’s office. The office started looking into police officers at schools after hearing from young people that they had “extreme concerns” about arrests in schools and the potential violation of their civil rights and liberties, said Leigh Anderson, chief performance analyst for the inspector general.
Anderson said her office was surprised there was so little basic information available about the relationship between schools and police, who have been in schools for decades. Anderson said the inspector general’s office received a 2014 list of officers in the schools created by the Chicago Police Department, and it had obvious errors in it.
“If we don’t know who the officers are — the process of holding them accountable is basically not there,” Anderson said.
Community groups are planning a press conference to respond to the report late Thursday. They are expected to call for the school district to suspend placing police officers in schools, at least until policies and procedures can be put in place. They want police officers replaced by counselors.
“It shows a complete lack of care and almost neglect by both the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago police department,” said Olivia Abrecht, an organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. “How are you going to put officers in schools interacting daily with young people and not have any rules or regulations? That is really terrifying.”
Agreement, training recommended
The report recommends drafting a memorandum of understanding that explains why police are in schools, what their roles should be and emphasizes that police should not be involved with routine student discipline. The inspector general’s office also recommends that community groups help establish guidelines for hiring school-based police officers and that school police get special training, particularly on how to use alternatives to student arrests.
According to the inspector general’s report, the Chicago Police Department agreed with many of the office’s recommendations. The police noted that the final draft of a consent decree to reform the CPD, which was submitted to a federal judge on Thursday, calls for many of the same actions suggested by the inspector general.
The police said they would wait until next year to implement changes, as called upon by the consent decree, according to the inspector general’s office. CPD is expected to comment later Thursday.
CPS said after the consent decree is implemented the school police will be “better equipped to serve our schools and students.”
But the inspector general’s office urged the police department to make changes immediately.
“CPD’s failure to act more expeditiously to implement the reforms prior to the next school year leaves students, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders in the current year without the protections and assurances of a school safety program that is aligned with national best practices,” Joseph Lipari, deputy inspector general for public safety, wrote in the report.
No update since 1988
Anderson said the inspector general’s office originally set out to compare how policies and procedures on police in schools in Chicago compared to national best practices established by the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education. But Chicago’s last policy and procedures were approved in 1988.
Until January 1, 2017, CPS had an inter-governmental agreement with the police department, but it provided little guidance on hiring and did not require any specialized training.
The CPS student code of conduct establishes when police should be contacted, but Anderson notes there is little way to know whether that guideline is being followed. She said her office was told school principals and police commanders decide how to use police at individual schools.
“So a police officer could be operating in one capacity in one school and operating in the same district in another capacity in another school,” she said. “So we are unclear about equity as it goes across the schools.”
Abrecht, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council organizer, said young people involved with her organization are concerned that students are being included in a CPD gang database after contact with school police. She said they tell her the presence of police in schools makes them feel less safe, rather than safer.
CPS officials say the number of police in schools has been reduced over the past few years, down from nearly 100 officers in 2010. Also, the school district has revised its code of conduct to emphasize a restorative, rather than a punitive, approach to discipline that tries to help students correct their behavior.
And while police officers may not have been trained for their role in schools, the school district has provided instruction to principals on when and where they should involve law enforcement, CPS officials said.
Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.