Janet Reno in every US school: About the COPS program?
- "...this program runs the real risk of creating
a federalized police force that operates within our local police departments
- and in our schools - but has its economic and psychological allegiances
- Moving to smaller community has inspired me to take a
close look at what is going on at the micro level in this country. Here's
something I came across recently that I wrote up for local use, but should
also be of interest to anybody who wants to keep track of the latest tricks
of the tyrant's trade. This slick program is currently being sold to our
school boards nationwide. I encourage you to fight it when it comes to
- Text also at: http://www.brasscheck.com/cops
- Sheriff's Deputies In Our Schools - Well Intentioned
But A Very Bad Idea
- Currently, there is a proposal circulating among school
boards to station an armed, uniformed Sheriff's Deputy in every Northern
Dutchess County school on a full time basis. While I have no doubt that
the supporters of this proposal are well intentioned, many people who hear
about this have expressed dismay at this idea. I believe these people,
parents, teachers, and students should be listened to carefully for the
- 1. The proposal marks a radical departure from over 200
years of American history 2. The program is not needed 3. The program was
not asked for by local people 4. The origins of the program have not been
presented forthrightly 5. The stated purposes of the program are vague
- Supposedly, we want our children to master history, civics,
logic, and science. As adults, let's use these disciplines to analyze this
"gift" that outsiders are so eager for us to accept into our
- First: For over 200 years of American history there has
been a separation of church and state. This separation is the basis of
our religious freedom. Our founding fathers were also equally clear about
the need for eternal vigilance in the matter of protecting civil society
(us) from the potential abuses of government, of which law enforcement
is a part. I don't know if studying the Bill of Rights is popular in our
public schools any more, but several of the amendments specifically address
this point. To invite law enforcement to become a permanent, full time
fixture in our schools is a radical step, one that I believe past generations
would have rightfully scorned and one that we ourselves would be skeptical
of if we were to see it in countries like China or Iraq.
- Second: The program is not needed. As we'll see later,
the function of these officers, called School Resource Officers (SRO),
has been very poorly defined. Yes, there are some extremely out-of-control
schools in urban areas which, sadly for all concerned, require a police
presence, but note: officers are sent to these schools with a very clearly
stated law enforcement mission: to patrol, to investigate, to apprehend,
and to process criminals.
- Interestingly, the honest advocates of the SRO program,
such as the one proposed for Dutchess County, make no claims that these
programs improve school safety. This is indeed a most bizarre situation.
On the one hand, law enforcement officers are being sent to set up camp
in our schools, but on the other hand, no one is promising improved security.
They are promising other benefits which we will look at in detail a little
- Third: This radical program was not asked for by teachers,
students, administrators or parents. It is being proposed and promoted
by outside forces that do not have their roots in our community. This alone
should set alarm bells ringing.
- Fourth: Most troubling to me personally is the fact that
the origins of this program have not been presented forthrightly. To date,
when asked about the source of funding, advocates have incorrectly stated
such things as "this is a continuation of the DARE program" and
"this is a program of the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office."
Both these assertions are patently false and the beg the question: why
aren't advocates of the SRO movement disclosing the facts? The truth is
that this is a federally funded program administered by the Depart of Justice.
In other words, not only is this program not a response to local requests,
it is a top down creation formulated by the Clinton Administration and
Attorney General Janet Reno.
- Who cares, you say? Consider this: Deputies who are part
of this program will be paid by the Sheriff's Department and will be nominally
under his command, but the cash in their paychecks will be coming from
the Justice Department which also funds the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms, two federal law enforcement agencies.
- And not only do school resource officers' paychecks come
from Washington, so does their training and funding for their state level
associations. And, note this well: the funds to promote the program and
sell it to school board members are also part of the Justice Department
budget. These promotional efforts include paid trips to training facilities
where board members are "educated" as to the virtues of the program.
I understand that part of the training they receive is how to "sell"
the program to their communities and handle the "emotion based"
objections of the community. The Justice Department has also funded "scientific"
studies which "prove" that the program is great and has nothing
but wonderful benefits for us all. The nature and funding of these studies
needs to be fully disclosed before they can be presented as evidence to
- There's one last piece to this that should give everyone
pause. These federally funded school officers, by definition, will not
be doing normal police work and therefore in time will have more in common
with school resource officers in other parts of the state and country than
their own fellow officers. In short, this program runs the real risk of
creating a federalized police force that operates within our local police
departments - and in our schools - but has its economic and psychological
allegiances elsewhere. Again, I have to ask the question: why is it that
at every public presentation on this subject I've been to, this federal
connection is not disclosed. The answer I think is clear: because the program's
structure is unacceptable according to the well established principles
of our democracy.
- Fifth: The stated purpose of the program is vague and
contradictory. Some of the functions suggested for Dutchess Sheriff's deputies
include: helping students get driver's permits, teaching them the history
of the Dutchess County Sheriff's Department, and improving the image of
the department among the public
- With all due respect, the best way for the Sheriff's
Department to improve its image is to continue doing what it is doing now,
performing an exemplary job of protecting and serving the public. Certainly,
from time to time, representatives from the Sheriff's Department should
be welcome guests in our schools and talks to students now and then would
be an entirely reasonable way to educate young people about the role of
law enforcement in our society, But a full time, armed presence? For what
- The truth emerges when one reads the literature of NASRO,
the National Association of School Resource Officers who work with the
Justice Department to promote the program:
- "... The School Resource Officers promote a better
understanding of our laws, why they were enacted and their benefits. They
provide a visible and positive image for law enforcement. They serve as
a confidential source of counseling to students concerning problems they
face. They bring expertise into schools that will help young people make
more positive choices in their lives. They also work to protect the school
environment and to maintain an atmosphere where teachers feel safe to teach
and students feel safe enough to learn."
- If there are any law enforcement professionals out there
who truly want "to serve as a confidential source of counseling"
or "help young people make more positive choices in their lives"
as a profession, may I respectfully suggest that they go back to school
for the appropriate degrees that our teachers and guidance counselors must
earn before they are entrusted with these functions. How can a law enforcement
officer provide "confidential counseling?" to young people without
a degree or licensing? Is it even advisable for one person to both enforce
the law and offer "confidential counseling?"
- Teachers, parents, school administrators, and school
board members should be very clear about what they are giving up when they
accept this program. Remember: 1) the officer will not be under the command
of school officials and 2) he will be obligated, first and foremost, to
enforce the law as defined by his superiors. Imagine the long term consequences
of formalizing such an arrangement.
- There are many things which happen in schools which are,
technically, violations of the law. These would include fighting and possession
of various items that children are prohibited from possessing. In extreme
cases, school administrators can and do have the good sense to call in
law enforcement, but we have in place a centuries old tradition in the
western world of dealing with our children's transgressions informally.
- Bring in a full time police presence and we risk seeing
things like schoolyard fist fights resulting in assault and battery arrests
and possession of dirty pictures resulting in pornography distribution
charges. These types of transgressions are best dealt with by parents,
teachers, counselors and administrators. Are we really willing to give
up this humane and common sense system for one that is funded and administered
by federal law enforcement officials in Washington DC? California which
takes a hyper-aggressive approach to these matter now has over 100,000
children behind bars in spite of a juvenile crime rate which has dropped
steadily since 1993.
- Concerning NASRO's other aims, I believe that attorneys
and legislators, not to mention teachers themselves, could do an equally
good job explaining our laws to our children. As for creating an environment
that is "safe enough to learn," this is hardly a problem in Northern
Dutchess. For those who would raise Columbine, they need to face the fact
that like train wrecks or plane crashes, the random acts of madmen are
the very rare exception to the norm and no amount of policing can stop
them. Hundreds of local police, many with SWAT training, were deployed
to that school during the shootings and all they were able to do was wait
outside until the shooters killed themselvs.
- In short, the "free" school resource officer's
program being offered to school boards by the Justice Department is an
unthinking bureaucrat's dream which down the line could some day could
become an institutionalized civil liberties nightmare. My recommendations:
- 1. If schools really need better security, local taxpayers
should hire local people with local community values to provide it. I will
be the first to open my wallet if such a need is proven. 2. If schools
need positive role models, we should ask why such models are not available
to them already in the form of our education professionals. I think they
already are. 3. If schools need more counselors, school boards should come
before the public, state the case, and ask that this need be funded. 4.
If the community want an opportunity for police and youth to interact in
an informal, friendly way, then programs like the NYPD's Police Athletic
League would serve as a rational model for such aspirations.
- What is not a good idea is bringing in full time armed,
uniformed officers into our schools who are paid, trained, and supervised
by forces we cannot control to provide an implausible mix of security,
counseling, and social training services as part of a deceptively packaged
and promoted program.
- Common sense and self reliance built this country and
remain our most precious assets. Let's exercise them, not only in this
instance, but every chance we get. I say yes to supporting our kids and
our Sheriff's Department. I say NO to this particular program.
- Ken McCarthy is the president of Amacord, an Internet
publishing company in Dutchess County, New York. Four generations of his
family have served in law enforcement in New York State. He has taught
grammar school and high school kids as well as college and graduate students
at MIT, Columbia, Princeton, and NYU.
- Brass Check - http://www.brasscheck.com
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