After the Greensboro City Council abruptly pulled its share of funding for school-based police officers, the Guilford County commissioners will step in to fill the gap.
Thus, a potential crisis in school safety was averted. And an unhealthy rift among county, city and Guilford County Schools leaders was avoided.
Make no mistake, there’s an important discussion to be had about police officers in our schools — and so many lingering questions:
Which officers are best suited for duty that is in many ways unlike other types of policing? How should they be trained? How should they be used? What impact does the police presence on campuses have on the “school-to-prison” pipeline that fills jails and prisons disproportionately with African Americans? And should police be deployed in public schools at all?
There’s a time and a place to hash out these issues, which have been broached before but never truly resolved. One thing’s for sure: It shouldn’t happen on the fly. But it did.
The Greensboro City Council decided in a work session to pull the $1 million the city annually contributes to help pay for school officers, called school resource officers, or SROs, in Guilford County schools. Both the county commissioners and Superintendent Sharon Contreras said they felt blindsided. “I wasn’t consulted,” Contreras said last week. “Neither was the Board of Education or the board chair.”
If SROs were removed, Contreras said, she would worry that police officers who are unfamiliar with students and lack ongoing relationships with them would be less effective if they were called to schools on a case-by-case basis. And that, she fears, could lead to more arrests.
The idea of withdrawing the funding came up during a City Council discussion of revenue shortfalls created by the COVID-19 crisis. Citing “extreme concern” among some in the community about the schools-to-prisons pipeline — and the role SROS might play in fueling it, Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy brought up SRO funding.
It’s a fair question, but such a potentially seismic change shouldn’t come on a whim.
The city money didn’t directly fund the positions, but it did pay for supervisors of the Greensboro officers in the program,and other administrative costs.
As the News & Record’s Jessie Pounds reported Monday, the question of how, if at all, to use police officers in schools isn’t unique to Guilford County, especially as communities nationwide reconsider approaches to policing in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. School districts in Minneapolis; Denver; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle plan to remove police from campuses.
It’s a conversation well worth having here, but not this way. Even proponents of removing SROs say too sudden a change would have been dangerous.
Fortunately, what could have been a crisis ended well. Half of the city money that would have gone to the SRO program will pay for affordable housing in the city; the other half will go into the general fund. And the county commissioners say they intend to preserve funding for SROs.
“There can be no more important issue than the safety of our kids,” Commissioner Justin Conrad said.
For now, Greensboro police officers will remain in schools. But broader questions about SROs also remain. City, county, school leaders and the community should address them — together. Honestly and constructively, with no surprises. This is too important not to get right.