ACLU calls for school police officers to go unarmed because guns send a ‘negative message’

ACLU calls for school police officers to go unarmed because guns send a ‘negative message’
A Georgia police officer was put on administrative duties after reportedly telling a motorist that cops "only kill black people." (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

School resource officers should be unarmed because guns in school hallways send a “negative message” to students, according to an op-ed posted to the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

Harold Jordan, a senior policy advocate for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, penned an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday, which was reposted on the ACLU’s main website Friday, that said cops stationed at Pittsburgh city schools should be forced to continue working without sidearms.

“Having officers patrol the hallways with firearms sends a negative message to students,” Jordan wrote. “It makes many students feel that they are being treated like suspects.”

“Places of learning are not security zones or criminal justice institutions, and they should not be staffed that way,” Jordan argued.

Instead, Jordan suggested that the Pittsburgh City School District look for ways to decrease the need for cops in its schools.

“Emerging best practices aim to reduce police involvement in routine disciplinary school matters, ensure fairness in disciplinary processes, and increase the ratio of counselors and student support services to cops,” he wrote.

Jordan’s op-ed was a response to a March 24 Post-Gazette editorial that called for arming Pittsburgh city school resource officers, who are currently forced to work without the protection of sidearms.

According to the Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh schools employ 57 full-time security aides and 23 sworn police officers, who have full arrest powers and receive the exact same training as Pittsburgh city police. The newspaper equated fully sworn police officers without guns to a firefighter without a water hose.

“Municipal police officers wouldn’t be asked to face on-the-job risks without weapons; school police officers shouldn’t be asked to do so, either,” the newspaper’s editorial board argued.

More from the Post-Gazette editorial:

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, which represents the 21 rank-and-file officers, correctly points out the absurdity of the district’s position. The PFT said the district gives the officers bulletproof vests, a clear recognition of the danger they face, and noted that armed city of Pittsburgh police sometimes help to provide security at school events. The union says school police sometimes must call Pittsburgh police for assistance, meaning unarmed and armed officers are working side by side in a school. While driving through the city, school police officers would be expected to intervene in any crime they observe or respond to any citizen’s plea for help, even without weapons.

And while Jordan argued that school police may be quick to use their weapons — lethal and non-lethal — to de-escalate violent school situations, the Post-Gazette completely disagreed.

“Given the population they protect and the tools currently at their disposal, school police officers may be better than their peers in municipal departments at de-escalating situations without force. Though additional training in firearms and use of force always would be welcome, this isn’t a group with itchy trigger fingers,” the board wrote.

“Arming the school police wouldn’t be a rash act putting students, teachers and other employees at risk. With proper oversight, the measure would enhance safety rather than diminish it,” the board said.

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