The SRO work group needs to amplify student voices and encourage healthy discussion between them and the SROs themselves.
Last June, the MCPS Board of Education established a committee which consisted of five high school students of color and 20 adults to review the county's student resource officer (SRO) program and suggest alternatives to it. The work group was marred with allegations from its student members that it had "actively ignored" their perspectives during the meetings and failed to consider relevant data on the SRO program and its alternatives. MCPS SROs have also claimed that their voices have been ignored during the county's debate on whether to remove the program. It is imperative that the work group includes the voices of more student members of color and more student resource officers.
According to the Maryland Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices, Black and low-income students were disciplined more severely and more frequently than their peers, even though the study "failed to find racial differences in student behavior." MCPS’ arrest data from 2018-2019 reveals that 78 percent of all SRO arrests were made against Black or Latinx students, while they make up only 21 and 32 percent, respectively, of MCPS's student population. The SRO program disproportionately arrests students of color, but the County Council and Board of Education have taken no concrete action to address this, while they simultaneously claim to support racial justice.
Student resource officers say that they have a genuine desire to be role models for students. Captain Flynn, a former SRO and current Director of Community Engagement for the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) says that it "cuts the SROs to the heart" when students say that they feel unsafe around them. Although SROs are central to our county's discussion of Bill 46-20, they feel like they aren't being included in the conversation. "The SROs feel that they have no voice… like a lot is being talked about them," says Flynn. Flynn also feels that it is unfair to label the SRO program as racist. "It's frustrating because we're not the ones making those decisions on arresting students. We're doing it at the direction of the school," Flynn says. MCPS protocol relies on SROs to initiate a "paper arrest" against the student by writing an incident report and sending it to the Department of Juvenile Services. Perhaps the issue with the SRO program has more to do with schools relying on SROs to police offenses like drug possession, drug distribution, and fights that could be handled using restorative justice.
The work group would also benefit from looking at legitimate data on the SRO program and its alternatives. According to Kyson Taylor, a student member of the work group, "We (the group) didn't examine the right data, so I don't really understand how we could have made a decision or made recommendations," he says. According to a Jan. 12 memo that Jack Smith (then MCPS Superintendent) wrote to the Board of Education, it does not appear that the work group discussed sources that were critical of the SRO program, such as the previously-mentioned 2018 report that found racial disparities in Maryland's arrest data.
Maraki Solomon, another student member, corroborates Taylor's claim. "I don't think that [the work group] ever had an intention of truly changing the way that MCPS structures the SRO program… or even considering the removal of it," she says. How can the work group come up with alternative solutions to the SRO program if the majority of its members won't even consider changing it?
After the work group's failure to meet its goals of coming up with alternatives to the SRO program, the Board of Education moved the deadline for the group's final recommendations from Dec 2020 to May 2021. If Montgomery County's leaders want to put their money where their mouth is, they will ensure that the SRO work group gives MCPS students greater representation on the committee, examines the necessary data, and provides concrete recommendations to address the program's racist impact
Myles Feingold-Black. Hey! I'm Myles [he/him], and I'm a Editor-in-Chief of SCO along with Tharindi Jayatilake. More »