Study: Black Students—Not Crime—Determine If Schools Get Security (Double Participation)

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AP Photo / Matt Rourke

“To the extent that police in schools may contribute to the disproportionate arrest of African-American students, the use and/or role of police in schools should require careful reexamination,” an overview of the study provided to TPM said.

The study was conducted by Tim Servoss, a professor of pyschology at Canisius College in New York, and Jeremy Finn, a professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The results of the study are scheduled to be presented in full at April’s American Educational Research Association conference in Washington, DC.

Servoss and Finn relied on a sample of about 700 high schools, drawing from the data of three national surveys. Three-quarters of those schools employed at least one part-time police officer. Fifty-seven percent of the schools with an officer present had no student arrests, a point Servoss highlighted to show that the “results don’t support the notion that all police in schools are bad.”

He and Finn found that crime and misconduct within a school played a role in predicting if a school would take security measures, including drug testing, metal detectors, drug surveillance dogs, and the presence of security guards or police.

“However, the proportion of African-American students was a significant predictor of security even when controlling for the same background characteristics and crime and misconduct within the school,” the researchers said in their overview. “These results suggest that the implementation of security measures are at least partially based on the perceived threat of the African-American student population rather than any objective dangers within (crime or misconduct), or in the neighborhood (neighborhood crime) surrounding the school.”

These security measures, in turn, increased the likelihood that a black student would be suspended when compared to a white student, particularly when a school uses drug surveillance measures, (i.e., drug testing, dog sniffs, random contraband searches). In a school without these measures, black students were twice as likely to be suspended than their white peers. With these measures, black students were three times as likely. This disparity exists after controlling for school size, racial composition, socioeconomic status, urbanicity, and school indiscipline.

Finally the study looked at arrests rates, with the researchers noting in their overview, “Unlike other school personnel, police have the authority to arrest students.”

There, it found racial disparities were also greater.

“In the average school without police, the black-white disparity in arrests was negligible,” the authors wrote, with black students being 1.3 times more likely than white students. But with police present, African-American students were 2.2 times more likely to be arrested than white students, they concluded.

A separate but related study conducted by Finn and Servoss using the same data set found, “When one or more police officers are in a school, the odds are three times as likely that the school will have a high number of arrests (among similar size schools), even when indiscipline and the composition of the student body are controlled statistically,” according to an overview sent to TPM.

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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3 comments

  1. This article reminds me of my high school in the Palisades (in California). The school was predominately white, in a predominately white area, with reasonably sized black, Latino, and Asian populations and smaller pockets of other races. There were campus police officers present all the time which was to be expected in such an open school (anyone, if they got past security, could walk right off campus into the street and vice versa). One or two stood near the school entrance to prevent people from leaving or getting in when they weren’t supposed to. However, I noticed that there was always campus police near the cafeteria lunch tables, which is where many black students (myself included) sat which also just happened to be right around the corner from the basketball courts where even more black and Latino students hung out. This just reminds me of the conversation in class about the need to create safe spaces where people won’t encounter stereotype threat, yet these safe spaces are often violated by the threat of police. So you really have nowhere to go. And I have to wonder if that school had remained as racially homogeneous as the surrounding neighborhood, where would the police be? Would there be any inside the school at all? I mean this is the same school that had fried chicken served in the cafeteria for Black History Month so…who knows.

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  2. This article is odd to me because i came from a high school that was very diverse with the population literally being a third white, a third African american, and a third Asian american. We had a police officer if not two on duty at all times, and you never noticed or heard of racist notions or deeds being done. Word travels fast and you would hear if that was happening and it never did. If anything during my high school career i noticed more whites getting arrested and taken for drug possession at and around school. Its nothing against this article and the facts that it presents, it is just my personal experience with this ideal is completely different. I hope that more schools and their officers could possibly use my high school as an example because fairness and kids not being afraid of getting in trouble due to the color of their skin is huge in how they will perform academically and if they will become successful or not.

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  3. From a high school made up of largely of African Americans and Latinos, I’ve never stop to consider that the reason my high school ever had so much law enforcement on site was because of race. It’s outrageous that my community and I have normalized this fact. “Oh, we’re all Latinos so of course there’s a police officer looking for drugs,” is a common phrase/joke heard within my friend group. Although it’s difficult for privileged citizens to understand their privileges, it’s awful that some people like me, an unprivileged Latino, find it difficult to understand just how underprivileged we are. Sad that an entire unprivileged communities can begin raising oblivious children. Children oblivious to all the opportunities they weren’t born with. I am a first generation student and articles like this will also continue to astonish me because I didn’t know that some privileges even existed.

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