These incidents represent a dark side to a sector of policing that continues to grow in response to fears over school shootings. In the two decades since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, school resource officers have emerged as a primary balm to soothe America’s sense of helplessness in the face of a seemingly endless string of violent childhood deaths. While Congress has failed to pass gun control bills in the aftermath of these high-profile tragedies, it has been quick to fund efforts to place more officers on primary, middle, and high school campuses, even though there is no conclusive evidence showing that these armed men and women bring more good than harm to the students under their watch.
In 1996, according to Department of Education data, around 10% of schools had a police presence on site for at least one hour a week; by 2016, 58% of schools had a sworn law enforcement officer stationed on campus at least part-time. While there have been few official counts of school resource officers over the years, the sector’s largest training organization, the National Association of School Resource Officers, estimates that as many as 20,000 cops are on the school beat today, more than double the number tallied by the Department of Justice in 1997. This year, after shootings at high schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, left a combined 27 people dead, tens of millions of dollars in federal grants covered a renewed push to put officers in as many schools as possible. In the new school year, there will likely be more sworn law enforcement personnel stationed in primary, middle, and high schools than at any point in the country’s history.
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