The first line of security at most high schools in the District of Columbia are metal detectors and screening devices staffed by school resource officers. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
The first line of security at most high schools in the District of Columbia are metal detectors and screening devices staffed by school resource officers. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

D.C. Council members Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) along with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) recently introduced legislation that, if passed, halts and reverses a program that phases school resource officers out of District public and public charter schools. 

This move follows a youth-centered D.C. Council hearing that White and Pinto hosted at R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Southeast where some young people requested an on-campus police presence that was more in touch with the student community. 

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and subsequent social justice protests that erupted across the country, the D.C. Council unanimously passed legislation incrementally phasing out school resource officer programs. Some of them, including Gray and White, have since changed course, at times speaking about situations that their constituents encounter.   

Gray said he introduced this legislation in response to public school and public charter school principals who have, in recent weeks, expressed concern about low staffing and their ability to mitigate conflicts between students that often turn violent.  

However, some people, including Samantha Davis, have expressed a desire for more investment in the social services and other resources that address the root causes of youth violence. 

“When it comes to addressing what happens in this city, people aren’t committed to the public health part,” said Davis, executive director of Black Swan Academy and a member of the Police Reform Commission whose recommendations included the gradual removal of school resource officers. 

Over the next few weeks, Davis has her sights set on engaging parents, young people and the other nine council members about the merits of removing school resource officers and what that means in the grand scheme of violence reduction. 

“The shift from criminalizing youth to a public health approach means radically investing in social workers, teachers, librarians and counselors,” Davis said. “The mayor and some on council are holding on to outdated and poor policy making that’s reliant on policing.” 

Principals Offer an On-the-Ground Perspective 

Earlier this year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) met with public school and public charter school principals, many of whom said their schools have gone into disarray since school resource officers have been removed. 

Shortly after that meeting, she revealed plans to factor the reversal of the school resource officers’ removal in her budget proposal, scheduled to be released on March 22. 

During a March 1 Committee of the Whole oversight hearing, representatives of IDEA Public Charter School in Northeast and KIPP DC Legacy Preparatory Public Charter School in Southeast, along with other schools, identified teacher retention and campus safety as two issues of concern. 

Patrice Billups, principal of KIPP DC Legacy College Preparatory, said that the reduction in school resource officers left a vacuum in an on-the-ground violence mitigation strategy that has proven successful in the past. She called for a restoration of school resource officers to the levels seen during the 2021-2022 school year. 

“School resource officers help students get to and from school, and serve as liaisons [between KIPP Legacy and Safe Passage workers]. They are also a much-needed connection between KIPP and other schools [in the area],” Billups said. “The phased reduction is making it hard for schools to keep students safe. There has been no substitute [and] school resource officers have training that police officers responding [to violence] don’t necessarily have.” 

Council Members Request a Solid Understanding about SROs 

On Monday, Mendelson echoed Billups’ sentiments. In expressing his support for Gray’s legislation, Mendelson said that those who’ve advocated for the removal of school resource officers have erroneously equated them with officers of the Metropolitan Police Department. 

“There is a misunderstanding that school resource officers are there to arrest students,” Mendelson said “They are valuable eyes and ears. They made a few arrests last year. From the standpoint of training, they are not the same as police officers.” 

White, who attended a vigil and funeral for teenagers over the last week, said that youth violence isn’t a cut-and-dry issue. In expressing why he co-sponsored Gray’s bill, White reflected on the testimony provided by Billups and cited the testimony of the youth who participated in the hearing he and Pinto conducted at R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center. 

That input, White told The Informer, showed him that addressing violence on school campuses requires a bevy of solutions. 

“I would say young people want school resource officers,” White said. “We also need to have community members there. It’s not either, or, it’s both. We have to get wraparound services to deal with the trauma. Violence is escalating in the city. We are at a 20-year high.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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