The latest reminder of the danger that comes with a gunman's attacking a school came in May when 19 children and two teachers were killed in a fourth-grade classroom in Uvalde, Tx. The fear that the next shooting could happen in their hallways hangs over school resource officers across the nation, exacerbating an already difficult job: They’re called on to be battle-ready officers whom parents and students can trust to protect them. Yet school police officers have been criticized for their treatment of students of color. Black students, especially, are disproportionately arrested or disciplined when a school has armed police, critics say, the Associated Press reports. Students of color report feeling less safe around police than white students.
Officers say they’re acutely aware of the criticism, striving to build relationships with students and interact for more reasons than just discipline. They stress that officers who work in schools need to be specifically trained to work with children and teens. Gone are the days when it was enough to hire an officer near or in retirement and keep a police car parked outside a school. School officers are now asked to be counselors and teachers, working empathetically and diplomatically with students and administrators, while also being an armed guardian. Still, some activists say police don’t belong in a school at all. Some districts got rid of police officers in schools during the protests over racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 amid criticism that they have arrested too many Black students, sweeping them into the criminal justice system.