| | Advanced Search


Patriots Tame Panthers For Blowout Home Win—The New England Patriots defeated the Carolina Panthers…

Friday Financial Five - August 22, 2014—Little bundles of joy are considered priceless, but…

Jackson Browne Digs Deep at PPAC—Jackson Browne arrived in town with a grand…

5 Live Music Musts - August 22, 2014—Here at “5 Live,” we absolutely refuse to…

Moms Can-Do’s: Kamp Kid Adventures LEGO Engineering and More!—Moms of little ones—from toddlers to elementary schoolers—looking…

Tax Breaks for Developers - See the Special Deals—See the special deals and millions in tax…

Hodgson Names Gobeil as Campaign Manager—Republican candidate for Attorney General Dawson Hodgson has…

Block Calls on Fung to Explain His Role in Cranston Police Scandals—Republican candidate for Governor Ken Block has called…

Progressive Democrats Of Rhode Island Endorse Clay Pell for Governor—The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America (RIPDA)have…

Rhode Island’s 5 Best Cooking Classes—Most parents we know consider this -- back…


Aaron Regunberg: Police Should Stay Out of Schools

Friday, June 01, 2012


Earlier this week during a meeting of the after-school program I facilitate in Providence’s Hope High School, I witnessed a fascinating debate between a group of students. I think it was very illuminating, and so I wanted to try to recreate the conversation as best as I can.

The topic was the role of police inside schools. The discussion began when one student questioned the propriety of cops carrying loaded weapons around Hope. “They’re walking around with guns like this is some army base or something while we’re in our classrooms, trying to learn algebra,” she said. “We’re not criminals.”

Another student disagreed. “They need weapons in case something happens,” he said.

“Like what?” a couple folks shot back.

“Well…in case someone else with a gun comes in.”

Everyone thought about that for a while. Someone asked, “Can anyone remember that ever happening at Hope?” A couple rumors, maybe, but nobody in the group could remember that having actually happened.

The first young woman piped up again, asking her friends, “Do you think they have cops with guns at Moses Brown?”—referring to a beautiful private school that sits just across the street from Hope High School but feels like a whole world away. “No way.”

At this point I had to jump in. “You know, not only do they not have cops with guns at Moses Brown; they don’t have police there at all. And while they’re a private school, I’d be willing to bet that there aren’t police in the public schools in Barrington or East Greenwich.”

“Yeah, and I bet they’ve got a full-time nurse there, too,” the young woman added.

“Hope doesn’t have a full-time nurse? For over a thousand students?” I asked.

“Nope. We have to share one with another school or two. So if you get sick or hurt or something and go to the nurse’s office, sometimes there’s someone there and sometimes there’s not.”

“So you have how many cops here every day…”


“Four cops here every day, but no full-time nurse?”

“That’s right,” everyone agreed.

I then asked the group what they thought of this situation, and we went on to have a really great discussion about it. But instead of repeating that dialogue here, I wanted to ask readers the same question—what do you think of a system that places four police in a school but doesn’t provide even one full-time nurse?

I’m sure folks will have a diversity of opinions on this one, but in my view, this mismatch offers proof of a pretty crazy ordering of priorities we have in this country when it comes to dealing with students, particularly low-income students of color. And it’s problematic for several reasons. First of all, it’s a really poor allocation of resources—I don’t know how one can argue that students require constant surveillance by law enforcement more than they require the availability of medical attention, and I can guarantee that if a sick or hurt student in an affluent suburban school asked for the nurse’s help and was told there was no nurse, there would be an uproar and the problem would be corrected.

But the current set of affairs is actually far more damaging than just an ineffective use of scarce resources. I’ve met several of Hope’s police officers, and found them all to be really good guys. But the fact remains that they are police, and a police presence causes certain well-documented psychological effects. Anyone who has ever been driving and seen a cop car out of the rear-view mirror knows what I’m talking about: even if you’re an excellent driver and are doing absolutely nothing wrong, you feel a little nervous and uncomfortable until the cop car passes you or turns. And young people of color in Rhode Island—who, studies have shown, are twice as likely to be wrongly stopped by police as white Rhode Islanders—often feel this discomfort even more strongly.

But even more problematic than making school an uncomfortable place for students is the message that this constant armed police presence sends to the young people in our urban districts. What we’re essentially telling these students is that they are suspect. By treating them like potential criminals, we are broadcasting to them an assumption that they are criminals, that they are deviants who need to be under unremitting surveillance at all times. This assumption is degrading and demoralizing, and it takes an incredible amount of energy and willpower for students to ignore it. For some young people, the challenge is too great, and eventually they, too, begin to believe this insulting assumption about themselves. Others keep their heads high, but still, they are forced to confront their supposed criminality every day when all they are trying to do is get an education.

In no way is this an attack against police—the men and women of law enforcement have incredibly important jobs. But they don’t belong in our public schools. The young people who fill Providence’s classrooms are students, not criminals, and at the very least they deserve to be treated as such.


Related Articles


Enjoy this post? Share it with others.


Having worked in schools with resource officers, they never presented themselves as treating the students like criminals. More often than not, these hard working officers made strong connections with students. Police should be seen as a vital and necessary collaboration with the school community. Obviously, Mr. Regunberg has never witnessed students assaulting teachers (remember the CF YouTube fiasco from last yr) or other students, selling drugs in the bathrooms, terrorizing others with bullying behavior. Perhaps students have reported that there are no concerns because of the presence of the resource officers.

Of course nurses are a necessity to every school. However, the funding for resource officers comes from a different source than nurses.

Comment #1 by barnaby morse on 2012 06 01

Hey Aaron, don't let the facts get in the way...Officer Al Marcella is school resource officer at East Greenwich high. Barrington also has school resource officer. In fact multiple ones will be on duty today. I like your articles, but you lost the bet.

Comment #2 by tom brady on 2012 06 01

So when I go to Providence Place Mall I'm going to feel uncomfortable because the cops have guns? Gimme a break. I actually feel SAFER if I know an armed cop is near when I'm shopping or whatever. Hope High School has been on a steady decline since 2008 as it becomes more gang infested. What if one of these gangbangers took out a knife and started carving other students up? As for Moses Brown, I don't believe it is gang infested and no need to have cops there. Their culture of Moses Brown is far, far different than the culture at Hope. I can hear it now after one of those complaining gets stabbed or jumped. "There's never a cop around when you need one" Life in the ghetto.

Comment #3 by Ed Jucation on 2012 06 01

So Aaron, Steve "wanna be a lawyer" Brown has you carrying his water? The ACLU and others need to stay out of the business of edducation and leave that to Educators. The school resource programs, on a nationwide basis, have been universally successful. It is when know it alls like Brown lose sight of their stated mission and dabble where they dont belong, do things go awry. The message to students is "we care about your safety," not "we are here to arrest you when you screw up." You and Steve Brown should concentrate on your missions and not try and be the crusaders and saviors to hose that dont need it.

Lastly, East Greenwich has had a resource officer or years. Get with the FACTS.

Comment #4 by David Allen on 2012 06 01

Aaron, you know why their are cops in schools? Because there aren't any parents at home. Cops today do what parents used to do - and that is be a parent rather than a child's friend.

Government policies have destroyed the nuclear family. It is too easy to get a divorce. The shame once attached to illegitimacy is gone. There is rampant recreational drug use. Sex without care or conscience. The result: social pathology beyond what any government program can repair.

Comment #5 by Christopher Lee on 2012 06 01

Moses Brown doesn't have cops in their school because they do not have to tolerate the troublemakers that Prov public schools have to accept. Your living in fantasy land! Teachers get assaulted and other students get assaulted. These are crimes, and they should be handled by law enforcement, not educators. And when a student brings a gun, or a knife, or drugs to school, my kids may have a chance if a cop is there to make an arrest sooner, rather than later when it is too late.

Comment #6 by watching providence on 2012 06 01

These days, with gang violence happening all the time in the big city, can you imagine what Hope or any other inner city school would be like if there were NO police officers in the schools? You have to wonder how silver spoons would survive if their gravy train stopped.

Comment #7 by David Beagle on 2012 06 01

Of all of the weird, whacked out liberal columns that this man has written for this outlet, this is by far the craziest. I don't know what Mr. Regunberg is smoking, but most, if not all, public schools have Resource Officers. My younger daughter transferred from Lincoln High to Mount Hope, and there were Resource Officers in both places. There continues to be a Resource Officer at Mount Hope. There is also a presence at the Jr. High, and there was a situation a few years ago, where 7th and 8th graders in some sort of "Scottish Mafia" were threatening others. Try as you might, Mr. Regunberg, this is NOT a racial issue. Violence, or the threat of it, occurs in all public schools.

Comment #8 by Michael Trenn on 2012 06 01

Hi all. Thanks for your correction--I apologize for incorrectly assuming that there aren’t police in the public schools in schools like East Greenwich High School. I was wrong (and will certainly be informing the students I spoke with about this correction). However, I think it's hard to argue that the police have very different presences in these different communities. At East Greenwich High, there is, a quick Google search found, 1 school resource officer two out of five days of the week (though the school is trying to get someone assigned all five days of the week) for a school of around 800. That's a pretty significant difference from four police for a school of around 1,000. Can we agree on that?

I also want to apologize for not being more clear in my article--I think this is a problem particularly pronounced when it comes to low-income students of color, but it's a problem in how we treat all students (I remember--I was not a low-income student of color, but I often felt vaguely criminalized during my high school days just for being a kid).

Comment #9 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 06 01

As far as Ed Jucation's comment goes, I think it's a good example of the kind of assumptions I was talking about. I don't know how much time you've spent in Hope, but it's not "gang infested." And the culture there, while it definitely has lots of room for improvement, also has a lot of great points. But we just assume that someone's going to get stabbed, anyways.

Comment #10 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 06 01

Are you serious? Obviously you and BROWNIE BOY, STEVEN BUM BROWN have your facts wrong. Whoever has given you or driven you to this story is a parent who had their child arrested for fighting which is a crime(RI GENERAL LAW 11-45-1) and is upset that their kid broke the law.
BUM BROWN also has no clue. Unlike Warwick officers do not get involed with Phones, sagging pants, hats or browsing the hallways, there is much more going on in Providence schools. I am sure you and BROWNIE boy have no clue casue your kids are in private schools or in quiet little Barrington or Little Compton. Fights are not a little scuffle on the corner but usually 2 kids in a circle of about 3oo kids or so and they lock arms so it does not get broken up. Happens often.
Let me correct you agian. Hope has 2 Officers not 4. For many yrs there was only one for about 1500 kids.
Brown has armed Officers for their Ivy League school and so does Harvard, UMM wonder why? Do you and BROWNIE BOY watch the news and see how school violence has risen and when their are shootings the word juvenile means they are under 18 and most likely in High School?

Comment #11 by Billy Santos on 2012 06 01

In support of Aaron, I would like to point out that Aaron prefaced/qualified his article by stating that the students were the ones that raised the issue. In that respect, I understand and support Aaron and his extension of the discussion.

As to his wager about the other schools, he has apologized and recognized that his did not do his due diligence with the information. I am sure that he will not make the same mistake again.

As to the contents of the article, I feel it is all a matter of perception, the students’ as well as the family’s perception. I do not want to make a general statement and have it haunt me, so I will put it in the form of a question. Do the students or parents who have students at Moses Brown feel the need to have security at that school? If they do not, why not? The same question can be asked in the mirrored version of the students and parents of the Hope students.

Here I inject my views. It sounds like the police officers’ behavior in the school is not a negative, but rather their perceived as such in the school by some of the students. That their title is resource officer sounds great. Perhaps there is a way to teach away some of the perceptions that bogged down some of the students. All in all, we certainly do not want another Columbine. Parents nor did America believe that anything like that could happen there, yet it did.

In the end, Aaron’s article surely points out one thing, that there are two opposing views on this matter. Whether this has anything to do with Steven Brown is beyond me. The students were the ones with the opposing views, and to them go the credit of liberalism or conservatism. To Aaron, I would remind you to do your due diligence.

As for the nurse matter, we should find a way to fund these positions that does not put any additional strain on the taxpayers. We are already in a huge mess. Any constructive ideas on this anyone?

Comment #12 by Miguel P. on 2012 06 01

Warwick has a school resource officer in each of the 3 public high schools, although the also support the feeding junior highs and elementary shcools. Just under 100 arrests per year for all three and the juniors. Many more kids are not arrested but dealt with by the officers in lieu of arrest (suspension, etc).
Providence is far worse. There are all sorts of weapons in their schools. Teachers can't handle the students and the parents are the problem. Used to be the vice principal could handle discipline. Now, they call the cops.

Comment #13 by Dave Barry on 2012 06 01

And Aaron, cops in schools deter crime by their mere presence. They also serve as intelligence gatherers for crime happening in the community because whatever happens in the community makes its way into the schools and to the cop's ears. Without such a presence, god knows what might happen.

Comment #14 by Christopher Lee on 2012 06 01

Guess you never spent any serious time in a high school. SRO's (Safety Resource Officers) are a god send. They are a presence that conveys authority and a last resort for safety. They make connections with kids, lend and ear to those that need help, and help kids that have no one to go to. When a teen brawl breaks out they covey the full weight of the law. Take it from someone that has been laid out flat by a punch from a very large teen. I was never so glad to see that blue uniform step inside a swirl of bodies that had no regard for anyone. When I read that that idiot superintendent from Central Falls got rid of the SRO I could only say that she is fooling herself into believing that there is no such thing as a bad boy. Listening to the Channel 6 report about the girl being sent to the hospital after being beaten by a girl gang is just the thing that a SRO could help prevent.

Comment #15 by Joseph Fazio on 2012 06 01

Tom, good call. I Know Al and was going to state that he was the resource officer at EGHS.

Most if not all high schools have them. It's a shame that they have to be there, but there's a reason that they are there. Most of the little tyrants ARE criminals. If you consider smoking pot a crime, which I do, then they are criminals. If you consider underage drinking a crime, which I do, then they are criminals. We won't even mention the countless students who don't go into the schools in the mornings, purposely show up late, and purposely leave early. These are just a couple of reasons the resource officers are there.

Comment #16 by pearl fanch on 2012 06 02

Hi all. I was informed I made ANOTHER major mistake in this piece. Hope High School only has two SROs, not four. I was way off, apologies to all--lesson learned that I have to fact-check the info I get from students.

Comment #17 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 06 04

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.