According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 89,183 public schools operated in the United States in the 2013/14 school year. During that year, 41% of public schools housed a law enforcement officer. Although some school officials, politicians, and law enforcement agencies argue that an increased police presence in schools protects children, social justice scholars have compared urban public schools to prisons and marginalized students as inmates. Creating a safe space for learning is important, but how did U.S. public schools get to this point? A review of current scholarship provides a rich understanding of current trends, but neglects historical perspective. Beginning in 1958, the school-police partnership phenomenon developed and spread throughout the United States reaching large and mid-sized cities as a strategy to prevent increasing rates of juvenile delinquency.
Responding to real and perceived increases in juvenile delinquency, negative images of police, and poor youth attitudes toward law enforcement, local and state police in conjunction with school boards, private organizations, and municipal agencies began instituting a variety of police-school partnership programs during the latter half of the twentieth century. In Flint, Michigan and Tucson, Arizona, programs included Police-School Liaisons (PSL) and School Resource Officers (SRO) placing police within schools to patrol hallways and act as a preventative measure against juvenile delinquency. In Cincinnati, Ohio, police and educators developed curricula that incorporated lessons about law-enforcement and general safety within the regular school curriculum.
By utilizing case studies, this dissertation examines responses to delinquency by highlighting three key cities – Flint, Tucson, and Cincinnati – in which police-school partnerships developed and expanded influencing the increased police presence in United States public schooling during the mid-to-late twentieth century. This dissertation provides insight into how each municipality – through individuals, school-systems, community organizations, local government agencies, and law enforcement – confronted rising juvenile delinquency from the mid- to late-twentieth century. Furthermore, this dissertation places the school-police partnership in a longer narrative in which schools were often viewed as not only society’s primary means to educate academically, but to socialize students into ideal American citizens. Therefore, the school itself became an agent of change directed by the dominating social norms that also defined juvenile delinquency during the same period. I further argue that police-school programs were implemented in metropolitan areas and specifically in schools with high populations of African Americans, Hispanics, recent immigrants, and lower socio-economic persons. Because of this, police-school partnerships reflected dominant society’s – white, middle and affluent class, English-speaking citizens – perception that marginalized populations were delinquent and therefore needing socialization.
This event is part of the 2016-17 Fellowship Brown-Bag Series,
which features informal talks by the Center for the Humanities and the
Public Sphere’s Rothman Faculty Summer Fellows, Tedder Doctoral
Fellows, and Rothman Doctoral Fellows. Fellows will speak for 20-30
minutes in length about their funded work, leaving ample time for
questions and discussion.
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