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School Resource Officers: LMPD Chief, JCPS leaders debate topic

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2021 at 6:35 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - In a forum held Wednesday, LMPD chief Erika Shields, Jefferson County School Board member James Craig, and University of Louisville associate dean Dr. Cherie Dawson-Edwards attempted to answer the question, “do we need officers in schools?”

Shields doubled down on her belief that JCPS needs its own police force.

“I’ll be the last person to say there should be a school to prison pipeline,” Shields said. “Never. But I will also say you can’t put your head in the sand when you know loaded firearms are going into your schools every day. We need to do something differently.”

Police and education leaders are still trying to work out what that would look like, however, they all understand the need to debate the topic, especially after 16-year-old Tyree Smith, a junior at Eastern High was shot and killed at his school bus stop in September.

“This isn’t about putting children in jail. It’s about interrupting the violence so there isn’t more deceased,” Shields said.

Shields said there is a gang problem in Louisville that bleeds into the schools, and it doesn’t help that students are being bussed to schools with rival gang members.

She believes whatever version of officers JCPS puts in schools, armed or not, they need to be trained to detect gang violence.

Craig said Shields’ argument was based on emotion, and the decision of whether to put SROs in schools needs to be based on data.

“You don’t fix school safety by appealing to emotion and telling folks that if you put a gun on a guard in school that everything is going to be better,” he said. “You have to look at what is actually happening.”

He cited Westport Middle School which had an SRO in 2018. During that time, 13 students were arrested at school. However, the next year when there wasn’t an SRO, there were no arrests for the entire year.

In the end, Craig agreed there needs to be some form of officers inside schools, but the plan needs must have widespread community support and be a compromise for all sides.

Dawson-Edwards admitted she believes there will eventually some form of law enforcement in Jefferson County schools because of how large the district is.

“Do I like it? No,” Dawson-Edwards said. “If there has to be a version of law enforcement in our schools, they need to be the best version that includes the latest research and best practices, and not the beat cop mentality patrolling our kids in schools.”

Not only are leaders divided on the topic, but also students.

“I don’t think there should be SROs in schools unless there is some type of special training, because not all cops are made to be in school with children,” Angela Hillary, a Seneca High student said.

“I personally support SROs in schools,” Hannah Skaggs, a student at Seneca High said. “It’s really important to build that community between students and officers in our community, and that starts in our schools.”

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio drafted a policy in 2020 that would have created the district’s own police force. It was ready for a vote at a February Jefferson County School Board meeting, but then COVID-19 hit. So far, there are no plans to bring that draft up again.

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