Pollio: JCPS school resource officers won’t fix Louisville’s youth violence issue

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 7:00 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools pushed back Tuesday on the idea of the district having school resources officers inside schools.

“I’m very disappointed that one of our children, a student of JCPS, was shot and killed,” Dr. Marty Pollio said. “An innocent young man was shot and killed on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, waiting for the school bus, and the argument we’re having right now is about school resource officers.”

The debate over school resource officers — or SROs — has raged on for years but was reinvigorated by Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields on Sept. 22 during a news conference with City of Louisville leaders after the bus stop shooting death of 16-year-old Tyree Smith.

“I am going to bang this drum loudly, but I am going to be leaning in on the (JCPS) Board of Education,” Shields said that day. “JCPS has to have its own police department.”

Monday, LMPD posted a video to Twitter where Shields stood by her comments.

“One of the things I was going to push for was for Jefferson County Public Schools to have their own police department, and I stand by that,” she said.

Her comments sparked reaction from across the city.

The Louisville Urban League posted a response to their website against Shields’ suggestion that Kentucky’s largest school district needs its own police force. It reads in part:

“To that end, we are deeply disappointed that Chief Shields would suggest that a JCPS police force is the answer. Her comments, made hours after the 6 a.m. bus stop tragedy, more than insinuated that blame lies with JCPS and judges. These comments were insensitive, untimely, and unproductive. In her efforts to deflect responsibility and to abandon her agency’s sworn obligation to protect members of our community, Chief Shields cast blame on an education system whose primary job is to educate, and on public servants, with whom, as we understand it, she had not taken the time to speak.

Even if we don’t have all the right answers, we’ve been here long enough to know the wrong answer. Despite her claim, there is no clear evidence to suggest that police in schools is a good solution to anything. What little data exists at all on school resources officers (SROs) is conflicting at best, but certainly, there are mountains of evidence on the harms of over-policing, particularly on Black and brown communities.”

Pollio said Tuesday that SROs may have a place in JCPS schools but only serve as part of the solution to the greater problem of child violence.

”We have no idea whether that would’ve had impact on this specific scenario or not,” Pollio said. “I mean, it could be argued that, but I think we have got to look at, ‘yes that’s something that has to be discussed,’ but I really think we got to start looking at deeper, root causes to these problems and solutions that we can have as a community.”

Part of the superintendent’s pushback included dates. He said data shows in the first 30 days of the 2021-2022 school year compared to the 2019-2020 school year, there was a 45% decrease in fights, a 25% decrease in suspensions, and a 70% decrease in restraints of students.

“So I want to push back a little bit on that,” Pollio said. “And let’s really look at the data to make evaluations and assumptions about what’s happening in schools.”

After the superintendent’s news conference, JCPS to provide data to WAVE 3 News to prove Pollio’s numbers. The district sent an email that reads:

“The superintendent referenced a data point today that I wanted to provide for you. He was discussing the number of referrals for fighting in the first 30 days of school this year versus the number of fighting referrals seen across the district in the first 30 days of the 2019-2020 school year. NOTE: this is not the number of unique fights.

Fighting Referrals:

  • 2019-2020 (first 30 days of school) - 5273
  • 2021-2022 (first 30 days of school) - 2841″

To read the Louisville Urban League’s full statement, click here.

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