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What rights do students have in dealing with police at school?

On-site police officers in schools results in more arrests, not fewer. 

Greenville County Schools first brought in police officers in 2000, in the wake of the Columbine shootings in Colorado. While students may be safer from outside threats, school resource officers can represent a different kind of threat — to students’ physical well-being and to their future.

In-school police officers have been accused of bullying and manhandling students. While those incidents are rare, arrests are not. At schools with resource officers on site, students are far more likely to be referred to the criminal justice system, with lasting repercussions that often follow them into adulthood.

What are the rights of students when they are confronted or investigated by a law enforcement officer at school? What should you or your child do? Read below for advice that the ACLU has assembled especially for students.

Officer Not-So-Friendly
Columbia school resource officer Ben Fields was fired in 2015 for forcibly pulling a student from her desk and throwing her to the floor. The incident, captured on cellphone video by classmates, reflects a trend of police being called in to handle matters that were formerly dealt with by administrators.

Today there are 19 high school and 17 middle school resource officers (SROs) in the Greenville County Schools. Their primary duty is to deter crimes and investigate crimes, not to handle discipline. But under South Carolina’s “disturbing school” statute, students can be arrested and referred to the juvenile justice system for disruptive or obnoxious behavior – a wide and loose definition.

In the 2013-14 school year, there were 1,189 arrests statewide for the misdemeanor crime of disturbing school. This is the third most common juvenile offense charged in South Carolina, after assaults and shoplifting. Students of color are disproportionately arrested in schools, either because of racial bias on the front end or differential treatment of white and black students once police are called in.

A study by the National Council on Education found that arrests go up – not down – at schools with a police presence. For example, about 60 percent of thefts are referred to the justice system in schools with resource officers, compared to 30 percent of thefts at schools without SROs. The same pattern holds true for juvenile arrests for alcohol, drugs, assaults, fights and vandalism.

A juvenile arrest often sends kids down a dark path. They are more likely to drop out, more likely to have future run-ins with police and more likely to end up unemployed.

What rights do students have? How should students react when confronted by an SRO?

The American Civil Liberties Union urges students to know their rights and – calmly, respectfully, but persistently – assert those rights.

· Remember that a school officer is a law enforcement agent. Anything you say to that officer is not privileged or protected. Whatever you tell them in confidence can be used to arrest you or your friends.

· Police cannot use more force than necessary. It is rarely justified for an officer to use a Taser, pepper spray or handcuffs, and never OK to strike, kick or verbally assault a student.

· You have the right to take videos or photos of an officer – as long as you are not interfering with their duties. But remember that such recordings can also be used against you or your classmates in court.

· Don’t run from an officer or resist, even if you think you are being unfairly singled out. Don’t argue, shout or swear. This will only escalate matters and possibly result in charges of disorderly conduct or disrupting school.

· Ask if you are free to leave. If yes, walk away calmly and silently.

· If you are detained, you do not have to answer any questions. You can simply say “I want to remain silent.”

· If you do wish to make a statement, you can ask to have a lawyer, parent or other adult present.

· If an officer asks to search you, your belongings, your locker or your vehicle, you can say “I do not consent to this search.” The officer may search anyway, but it is important to assert your rights. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion and not just a hunch. The search must be related to the alleged crime.

· If you are placed under arrest, do not resist and do not give any statement. Demand to talk to a lawyer.

Source: Bullied by the badge? (Hechinger Report/Huffington Post)


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