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Bill Would Increase Transparency, Oversight of Policing in DC Schools

NBC Washington D.C. logo NBC Washington D.C. 10/22/2021 Cory Smith
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Some D.C. Council members are calling for more transparency and oversight when students encounter law enforcement in schools.

Almost 75% percent of D.C. students are Black, yet they make up 91% of school-based arrests, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Education. Students of color are more likely to go to a school with a law enforcement officer and more likely to be arrested at school, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Those data points served as the backdrop for Thursday’s hearing on the School Police Incident Oversight and Accountability Amendment Act of 2021 -- a bill aimed at providing more transparency, oversight and accountability when students interact with law enforcement in school 

“The presence of police in schools has a disproportionately negative impact on Black and brown students and students with disabilities,” Children’s Law Center policy attorney Danielle Robinette said. 

The bill would require schools to keep additional data on school-based disciplinary actions involving law enforcement. It would force the Metropolitan Police Department to keep records of school-involved arrests by race, gender, age and disability and make data related to school involved incidents publicly available  

“Transparency does not on its own ensure accountability,” Robinette said. 

Robinette, a former public school teacher, supports the bill but says the data paints an incomplete picture.

“The data collected under this bill will not encompass the full range of concerns that students have regarding misconduct or harassment by law enforcement in their schools,” she said. “The data required by this bill will reflect the perspectives of schools and MPD, but not those of students.”

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee spoke largely in favor of the bill but said the eventual elimination of school resource officers could hinder efforts to accurately collect the data the D.C. Council wants.

“Any patrol officer might respond to incidents at schools,” he said. “It is more challenging to ensure consistency in data when the responding officer may only report on one or two school incidents per year.”

An anonymous survey of 205 D.C. principals and vice principals found 67% were opposed to getting rid of school resource officers, but advocates for reform believe the disproportionate impact on Black and brown students must also be considered in any policy decisions.

“We already reiterated a history of racially biased policing practices, so protecting our children is essential,” NAACP D.C. branch President Akosua Ali said.

The D.C. Council also is considering other oversight measures, including the creation of a deputy auditor of public safety and more authority for the police complaints board. The most contentious policy discussed Thursday is a bill that would make an officer’s disciplinary record publicly available.

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