The City’s federal lawmakers and Everett elected officials – including Police Chief Steven Mazzie – are citing tremendous differences on a proposal to end funding for police officers in the schools, a program in operation since the 1990s and known as the School Resource Officer (SROs).
Last week, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, joined by other colleagues in the House, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren filed a bill to end funding for school-based police, and use the money for counselors, social workers, nurses and mental health professionals instead.
The bill was filed with comments about “demilitarizing the schools,” something the chief, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria took exception to as they have had a long record of successful youth relationship building within that program and other school-based police programs.
“Every student should be able to learn in a setting free from fear,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “But for too many young people—particularly Black and brown students, immigrant students, students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students and other historically marginalized students—the very presence of police officers in schools increases the likelihood that they will be criminalized and put on a path to confinement for everyday childhood behavior. Instead of criminalizing our students and funding an ever growing police presence in our public schools, it’s time to finally invest in the critical staff like counselors, nurses and social workers who actually make our schools safer. The Counseling not Criminalization in Schools Act is bold legislation that will disrupt the school to confinement pathway by prohibiting federal funds from being used to over-police and criminalize our students and instead encourages schools to invest in the trauma informed personnel and health care staff necessary to equip all students to learn and thrive.”
Said Sen. Warren, “Counselors, nurses, social workers, and educators belong in schools. Police do not. Our bill will bring us one step closer to ending the militarization of our public schools that disproportionately hurts Black and Brown students, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and ensuring we give every child the resources they need to feel safe and thrive.”
Chief Mazzie said the characterization is way off in Everett, which is in Pressley’s district. He said no one from her or Warren’s office reached out to try to understand the program they run at Everett High and some of the middle schools. He said they aren’t there to arrest or harass, but rather to build relationships with young people and promote safety in the schools.
“We’ve been working in the schools in some capacity a long time,” he said. “I think universally the experience has been really positive for the community – both the teachers and the police department and students and staff…We try to put a big emphasis on assigning very qualified people – officers with the right personality and character…It’s an assignment we take serious because of the clientele these officers serve.”
He said the furthest thing from what they do in Everett is discipline or police the schools, and in fact he said they are very constricted by law as to what they can do to enforce the law or arrest on school grounds.
“What they described, that’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “If the school said we don’t want you in here, we won’t go…We’re not in there doing discispline stuff. That’s not the job. It’s safety and security for students and staff…We’re mainly working with the schools on best practices and helping with interventions. One thing we’re not doing is getting involved in disciplinary actions against kids. That’s not our role.”
In fact, Mazzie said one of the programs they started – Cop’s Corner – in the cafeteria came out of a study that found a great deal of miscommunication between young people and police officers in Everett. Several years ago, an MIT and Harvard study surveyed young people and police officers about interactions. It was revealed that police felt disrespected by young people, and young people also felt disrespected by police. It was a circular problem.
To combat that, Mazzie began the Cop’s Corner program that brought in not only the SROs, but also regular officers and command staff bent on developing relationships with the kids.
“It was an opportunity to get to know each other in a non-confrontational environment,” he said. “Some of the conversations are with kids that are interested in policing, but others aren’t. One takeaway is the officers and the kids found out we have a lot more in comment than one might think.”
Mayor DeMaria agreed with that sentiment as well. He said he fully supports the programs and SROs in Everett’s schools. He does not agree with the bill filed by Pressley and Warren.
“The Everett Police Department has always had a successful presence in the Everett Public Schools,” he said. “They have formed relationships and have been a vehicle to communicate student’s issues, problems, and concerns to both the Administration and teachers alike. I fully support having School Resource Officers present in not only Everett High School, but all of Everett’s School.”
Councilor Anthony DiPierro also agreed that the SRO program has helped to usher in community policing in Everett – a fast-changing community compared to many years ago.
“As a product of the Everett Public School system, I have witnessed firsthand nothing but positive results from the presence and partnerships with Everett’s School Resource Officers and the Everett Public Schools,” he said. “Building relationships with local law enforcement at such a young age furthers the goal of community policing while ensuring a mutual respect is formed.”
According to a release from Congresswoman Pressley on her bill, SROs contribute to an increased criminalization of young people – particularly students of color. The release said the federal government has spent more than $1 billion to put 26,000 SROs in schools ranging from grades K-12 throughout the U.S.
The release said a new body of research shows that police in the schools do not make schools any safer, and subjects kids into the school to confinement pathway.
The Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act would:
•Prohibit federal funds to support the hiring, recruitment and placement of police officers on K-12 school campuses;
•Establish a $2.5 billion grant program to invest in school districts seeking to replace law enforcement officers with adequately trained personnel like counselors, social workers, nurses, mental health practitioners and trauma informed personnel, which have been proven to create safer and more inclusive learning environments in schools.