Off-Duty Police Officers as School Security Guards in an Inner City High School: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

We had one student that balled his fist up at a teacher. I grabbed him and threw him down and told him we would not tolerate this.... We are not going to have it at school. Fighting or disrespect are the only two times I have been forceful. (Officer D, 418196, describing what happened when a student showed disrespect to a teacher)

Beginning in the 1970s and continuing to the present, the issue of school safety has been discussed in dissertations (Price, 1971; White, 1977), scholarly journals (Ritterband & Silberstein, 1973), journals concerned with school law (Arnette, 1995), federal reports (National Institute of Education, 1978), and state reports (California State Department of Education, 1990). In 1996, the Oklahoma state legislature expressed present concerns about school safety when it passed Senate Bill 1071. This new law requires schools to create a safe schools committee at each school site. The bill speaks clearly to the reason for the committee and its goal: "Due to the growing concern of safety and the ever constant threat of violence in our children's schools, it is the intent of the Legislature that local schools and families must work together to combat this rising problem" (Ehinger, 1996, 4). One popular solution for addressing the issue of school safety has been the use of school security guards. Today nearly all metropolitan high schools, middle/junior high schools, and an increasing number of elementary schools employ security guards. School districts have contracted with local guard services, hired their own security staff or combined these options. Many districts, including the one included in this study, employ off-duty police officers (Blauvelt, 1990). Despite the popularity of hiring guards, we know little about how well school security guards solve the problem of school safety. There are reports about the need to train school security guards so they are effective (Rascon, 1981; Wensyel, 1987) and about particular programs in specific schools and districts (Spearman, 1993; McGee & Knowles, 1994). However, little work has been done examining the precise effects of school security guards or to examine the possibility that there are unintended consequences of using school security guards.

Background of the study

In December, 1993 the principal of Clarke High School in Hometown' was relieved of duty because of immoral conduct. When the assistant principal was promoted to the office of principal, the senior author applied for the vacant assistant principal position. He was appointed to the position in January, 1994 and remained in that role at Clarke High for over one year before accepting the role of principal at another school.

Clarke High School has a recent history of academic problems. Of the 1440 students attending Clarke High, 25% are African American, 11% Hispanic, 2% Asian, and 58% Caucasian. One of every three students is on the free lunch program, the mobility rate is over 50%, and the dropout rate approaches 9%. Because of low standardized achievement test scores, the school has been classified as "low performing" by the State Department of Education for several consecutive years.

Local newspapers find Clarke High a constant source of good copy about how bad schools are not only in terms of student achievement but also in light of faculty and student problems. In the previous five years, a faculty member has been accused of raping a student, another faculty member has been accused of sexual harassment, a faculty member has been accused of illegally purchasing an infant, and the former principal had just been removed from office for immoral conduct. Stories about students bringing guns into the school, frequent drug deals, infrequent pipe bombs threats, sexual battery, and daily violence were commonplace in Hometown's newspapers.

In his role as assistant principal for Clarke High, the senior author was responsible for six security guards who worked an average of seven hours each day. …