New ACLU Report Shows Police in Schools Undermine the Education of Washington’s Kids

News Release: 
Monday, April 24, 2017
School policing is widespread in Washington. Of the 100 largest school districts in our state, 84 have police officers assigned to schools on a daily basis. Even schools without police officers assigned to campus may call police to respond to incidents of routine student misconduct.
Today, the ACLU of Washington released a report, “Students, Not Suspects: The Need to Reform School Policing in Washington.” This report shows that current laws and policies in Washington provide little guidance for the use police of in schools and explains how police presence on school campuses undermines the education of Washington public-school students. The report concludes by recommending policies that schools and the legislature should adopt to protect students and promote positive school environments.
“Police embedded in Washington’s schools too often respond to childish misbehavior with the full force of criminal law,” said Vanessa Hernandez, Youth Policy Director for the ACLU-WA, and author of the report. “This heavy-handed approach fails to enhance school safety and increases the likelihood that Washington students—particularly students of color and students with disabilities—are pushed out of school and into the juvenile justice system.”
Among the report’s key findings:
  • School policing is widespread and contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. Police officers in Washington have broad discretion to arrest students for minor misbehavior in almost all school districts, and Washington’s school police programs often lack written guidelines distinguishing between student discipline matters and crimes. This is particularly troubling because Washington law makes it a crime to disturb school, exposing students to criminal prosecution for routine misbehavior. Having police in schools makes it more likely that students will be arrested and funneled into the criminal justice system, creating a school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Washington’s school police lack appropriate training. Few of the police officers assigned to schools are required to undergo training on how to work in schools. Only 25 of the school/police contracts surveyed require police officers in schools to participate in any form of specialized training. This fails to account for the fact that schools are educational environments that should not be policed like a normal beat.
  • Washington’s school police aren’t accountable to school districts. Of the 92 agreements the ACLU reviewed, in over 70 school districts, school officials have no clear role in supervising or evaluating police officers stationed in schools. Only one school district in Washington has a clear civilian complaint process to address officer conduct in schools. In 55 districts, school officials have no input in the hiring or selection of an officer to be assigned to schools. Moreover, only 14 school/police contracts require any form of data collection on officer activities. This makes it hard for districts to assess the impact of police in school, including the effects on students’ constitutional rights and any discriminatory impact on students of color or students with disabilities.
  • Students’ safety and success are better served by investments that support a positive school environment. On average, schools pay $62,000 (and as much as $125,000) per full-time equivalent officer per year. Rather than investing in police, schools should prioritize counselors, mental health professionals, social workers, teacher training and evidence-based programs to improve the school climate. These investments are more effective at reducing routine adolescent misbehavior and addressing the underlying social causes that may be contributing to it.
“Students, Not Suspects” concludes that police officers should not be a regular part of the school environment in Washington. The ACLU report urges school districts to reconsider decisions to embed police in schools and recommends that the legislature establish statewide minimum standards for police in schools.
“Students, teachers, and school staff deserve safe, quality schools, but this cannot be accomplished by reliance on school policing,” said ACLU-WA Youth Policy Director Vanessa Hernandez.

The report is available at