Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson says he supports ending the controversial Chicago Public Schools program that puts uniformed police officers in dozens of high schools.
The mayor said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ on Tuesday that he will give the Board of Education the green light to end its $10.3 million contract with the Chicago Police Department. CPS officials told principals in early January to prepare for the possible removal of police officers by next fall.
“The Board of Education is moving in the direction that I do support,” the mayor said in his conference room on City Hall’s fifth floor. “There is an intergovernmental agreement between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Police Department. To end that agreement, there’s no qualms from me there.”
There have been yearslong calls to remove police from public schools to stem what research has shown to be a disproportionate policing of Black students and children with disabilities that often lands kids in the criminal justice system for in-school disciplinary situations.
In 2020, Sun-Times analysis found that students who attended a high school that had a Chicago officer stationed inside were four times more likely to have the police called on them than kids at high schools that didn’t have in-house cops. And there was a stark divide in the rate at which Black students were policed compared to their peers.
The presence of school officers has also not proven to prevent school shootings, research shows.
Those student-led efforts reached a fever pitch during the racial justice protests of 2020, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to push the decision down to individual Local School Councils rather than issue a blanket removal of school cops from the city’s 91 district-run, non-charter high schools.
Activists criticized Lightfoot for passing the buck to Local School Councils, arguing the research showed that removing cops would be better for students and the mayor was taking the politically expedient route.
Every year since, school communities have debated and Local School Councils have voted on whether to remove one or both of their officers. In the past two years, CPS has given schools the option of developing alternative safety plans that include one or no cops and provided funding if they choose to remove either of their officers. Those plans are intended to look at safety holistically, from discipline to social-emotional supports, and include input from students, staff and parents.
Some schools have said those resources have proven vital to healing students’ trauma and finding ways to de-escalate potentially harmful situations before they lead to violence and the police.
With that in mind, Johnson as a mayoral candidate said he would remove all officers and focus on those alternative solutions. But once he took office, he backed off, saying Local School Councils should make individual decisions. Now he has once again reversed course.
Johnson pointed to the fact that the vast majority of the city’s public schools don’t have officers inside their buildings, and that there’s been a precipitous decline in the number of cops in schools since LSCs were given the authority to remove them in 2020.
This year there are 16 high schools with two officers and another 23 schools with one cop. The rest, some 43% of district-run high schools, no longer have any police. And there are no officers in elementary schools.
The officers that remain, however, are concentrated in majority Black schools, two-thirds of which have at least one cop, according to a WBEZ analysis. A third of high schools with majority Latino populations or mixed high schools have one.
Schools that still have officers will likely be expected to develop their own police-free plans for safety by this summer.
Johnson said police will continue to play a role with schools, including monitoring student arrival and dismissal. CPS officials have floated expanding the so-called “roving units” of officers who patrol the areas surrounding schools as a way to quickly respond to outside threats posted to students.
A few alderpersons spoke against taking the decision away from Local School Councils at this month’s Board of Education meeting.
Ald. Peter Chico (10th) said that after George Washington High School on the city’s Southeast Side removed its officers, he heard complaints from CPD that calls from the school increased. He also said some parents didn’t feel comfortable with the lack of police presence and wanted officers brought back. CPS has not given schools that option.
Ald. Ruth Cruz (30th) said a parent came to speak to her about safety concerns and his hands were shaky because he was so fearful. As a former LSC member, she thought the decision should stay in those committees’ hands.
“I believe it should be handled by them,” she said. “They know the students. They know the atmosphere.”
Several other alderpersons said they supported the school board’s direction, especially the requirement that each school draw up a safety plan that includes other types of support.