Texas Criminal Justice System Moves Into The Classroom

The methods for dealing with disciplinary problems in Texas public schools are changing. Being sent to the principal for disruptive behavior or facing the school coach for punishment is becoming a thing of the past. In many school districts throughout Texas disciplinary action involves the local police department and the Criminal Justice System. In the past two decades most Texas school districts have turned to local law enforcement agencies to provide a police presence on campus. These officers are referred to as School Resource Officers. Some districts have created their own police department. These are made up of in-house school officers with police powers employed directly by the school district. Adding police officers in schools is the fastest growing area of law enforcement according to the Texas Police Association.

Many parents and community leaders are questioning the training these school police officers receive, especially giving police powers to civilian School Resource Officers, and are lobbying for training standards that take into account the school setting and dealing with children. There are also questions being raised as to the overall effectiveness of an increased police presence on school campuses.

Certain types of student behavior, even those involving low level non-violent misbehavior can result in ticketing for a Class C misdemeanor up to arrest and incarceration. Class C misdemeanors carry a fine of $60 to $500 dollars, require the student and a guardian to appear in court and remain on a student’s criminal record. If the student or family cannot pay the fine, they are subject to arrest once attaining 17 years of age.

Statistics Are Difficult to Compile

The Texas Education Agency does not require school districts to report student arrest and ticketing data and since few schools submit student crime statistics to the Texas Department of Public Safety, these statistics are difficult to compile. The Texas attorney general has published an opinion against disclosure of school district use of force policies, allowing view of policies or numbers only when voluntarily provided, as only several school districts have done.

Statewide, juvenile crime has decreased 14% over the period between 2000 and 2008. Based on available data school misdemeanor tickets have more than doubled during this time. The majority of tickets were issued to high school and middle school students; however, from the records that are available it is not unusual for very young children, in some cases 10 years old and younger to receive a Class C misdemeanor ticket at school. Of the nine school districts documenting the age of ticketed students, over a six year period, three reported issuing tickets to children six to nine and one case of a child 4 years old being given a Class C misdemeanor ticket.

Use of force

School police are in most cases armed with automatic weapons, pepper spray and tasers. Few school districts have any set policies involving the use of these weapons. In contrast, the various Texas juvenile justice agencies have placed restrictions on the use of pepper spray, for instance, on youth in their custody.

The debate concerning the use of SRO’s and school safety continues. Some argue that with the Texas school budgets as stretched as they currently are, the cost of school police is not worth the returns. Most do agree that a more transparent and inclusive method of reporting incidents involving ticketing students and the use of force by officers in school situations is needed.