Fewer Parents of Non-White Children See Police in Schools Enhancing Safety

(Reuters Health) – Parents and guardians of Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic/Latinx children are less likely than those with white children to perceive police presence in schools as making students safer, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers recruited 750 users of the crowdsourcing marketplace Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) who were parents or guardians of middle or high school students in the U.S. The survey asked about race and ethnicity as well as whether respondents would perceive schools as safer for their children with police officers who had firearms, other weapons, or no weapons; armed or unarmed security guards; or metal detectors.

Among 450 participants who completed the survey and were included in the final analysis, a greater proportion of parents and guardians of white students (72.9%) than parents and guardians of Black, Indigenous or Hispanic students (60.8%) said their child would be safer with an armed police officer in school. More parents of white students (57.3%) than non-white students (45.1%) thought an unarmed police officer would make youth safer in schools, the survey also found.

“Given that police violence and racism are critical public health issues, our team was not surprised by our very sobering findings,” said lead study author Dr. Anthony Bui, a pediatric resident physician at the University of Washington Department of Pediatrics and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

There is a longstanding history of structural and systemic racism that exists in the U.S., particularly when it comes to policing, that may explain the differing perspectives of parents and guardians in the study, Dr. Bui said by email.

“Whether police are in the community or in our schools, we recognize that police may represent feelings of safety for some people while signifying stress, fear, and violence for others,” Dr. Bui said. “These differences are driven by racism and a history of police violence in our country that disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.”

In the final sample, 306 respondents (68.0%) had children identified as white, while 102 (22.7%) had children identified as Black, Indigenous or Hispanic/Latinx, and 40 (8.9%) had children identified as Asian.

Compared with having a white child, respondents with Black, Indigenous, or Hispanic/Latinx children were significantly less likely to report that students would be safer in school with a police officer with a firearm (odds ratio 0.58), a police officer with another weapon (OR 0.59), or an unarmed police officer (OR 0.55).

One limitation of the study is that MTurk users may not be representative of all parents and guardians in the U.S. population, the authors note in JAMA Pediatrics.

However, the results make sense in the context of a well-developed body of research showing that having police in schools increases arrest rates for minor delinquency, damages the overall school climate, interrupts how connected a student feels to the school, decreases parental involvement, and increases student anxiety, said Thomas Mowen, an associate professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“There is a laundry list of negative consequences of placing police in schools and little – if any – evidence to support the idea that police make schools safer,” Mowen, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

An evidence-based approach to improve school safety is to better empower and support teachers and school counselors so that they can manage any behavior issues without the need for police to be inside schools, Mowen said.

“These school professionals connect with students and are absolutely at the frontline of school safety,” Mowen added. “Better support and funding for teachers and counselors would help facilitate safer schools and lower perceptions of racial/ethnic bias in schools.”

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3qBxo23 JAMA Pediatrics, online June 21, 2021.

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