Congress is pushing schools to employ police as guards in the wake of recent shootings, but 57 percent of schools already have some security presence, according to a new study Thursday.
The survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found 42 percent of schools had a resource officer on site in the 2015-2016 school year, which was 10 percent higher than a decade earlier.
All told, 57 percent of schools had some sort of security presence — up from 42 percent a decade before.
About 90 percent of law enforcement officers stationed at schools regularly carry firearms, the report said.
“After Sandy Hook, there was quite a surge — especially elementary school officers,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, referring to the 2012 elementary school massacre. “That changed a lot — we grew a lot in those ranks.”
Mr. Canady predicted another surge after last month’s shooting in Parkland, Florida.
There were 47 school-associated violent deaths during the 2014-15 school year, which is the most recent year included in the study. That school year included 20 homicides and 9 suicides of kids under 18, the report found. That was about in line with the average since 1992.
Still, school shootings are drawing ever-increasing attention, and there’s a sense among gun-control advocates that the Parkland massacre has broken down previous walls of resistance.
President Trump has pushed for faculty to be armed in schools, saying it could deter attacks or end them quicker, if they do happen. Many school officials have been resistant to that idea, though they are more open to police officers or other dedicated security.
Mr. Canady said his group can play a key role in the new push to combat school violence.
“What we are strongly advocating for and calling for is that there be at least one school resource officer in every school in this country,” he said. “We know that every school can benefit from it when it is a properly selected, specifically trained officer to work in schools.”
School resource officers are sworn law enforcement officials, generally armed, who are deployed by local police departments to assist with school safety issues.
Between 1992 and 2016, nonfatal student incidents like theft and violent victimizations did decline among students between the ages of 12 and 18 both at school and away from school, the report found.
But outside research hasn’t drawn a clear conclusion on whether the presence of armed security personnel actually reduces violence at schools.
An officer who was on hand during the Florida shooting but did not enter the school resigned and is now under investigation.
But a school resource officer at Great Mills High School in Maryland quickly engaged a shooter last week after the shooter shot two students, one of whom ultimately died after being taken off life support. The officer has been credited with preventing an outcome that could have been even worse.
A 2013 government report said that the overall research on the issue is incomplete, and that it draws conflicting conclusions on whether SRO programs are effective at reducing school violence.
Would-be attackers might be deterred if they know an officer is on hand, and relationships between the officer and students could facilitate increased reporting of threats, the report said.
“In addition, placing an officer in a school might facilitate a quicker response time by law enforcement if a school shooting occurs,” it said. “However, none of the research on the effectiveness of SRO programs addresses this issue.”
Teachers unions like the American Federation for Teachers have vociferously opposed talk of arming teachers and faculty, but appear open to increasing the number of SROs.
An AFT spokesperson on Thursday pointed to a past letter the group wrote to the president that lists “staffing schools with well-trained resource officers, who may be armed if a community so decides” among its school safety priorities.
But an official at Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group, said investing in more armed officers isn’t the right strategy and that the focus in the school gun violence debate should be on areas like mental health services and guidance counselors.
“Research confirms that school police fail to deter mass violence, make schools no safer and disproportionately criminaliz[e] students of color for minor misbehaviors,” said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the group’s national office.