Ever since his daughter Alaina was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, Ryan Petty has been a man on a mission: to prevent other families from having to go through the same pain and heartache that his family has lived with since the shooting that took Alaina’s life and the lives of 16 others. To do that, Petty hasn’t advocated for gun bans or a repeal of the Second Amendment, but has instead focused most of his efforts on improving school safety, including the addition of school resource officers and trained and vetted armed staff.

At the moment, however, Petty is having to fight against a nationwide narrative that says police in schools cause more problems than they solve, contributing to a “school-to-prison pipeline” that sends kids to jail when they should be receiving counseling and support. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam and Co, Ryan Petty joins me for a frank discussion about what the statistics really show, and why facts shouldn’t be trumped by anti-gun or anti-police feelings.

Petty says research shows that school resource officers actually lead to fewer referrals to the criminal justice system than bringing outside law enforcement into schools, citing a 2018 study in Criminal Justice Policy Review. That study, conducted by researchers at Mississippi State and the University of Alabama, found SRO’s accounted for just a small fraction of referrals over a three year period in one state.

First, and perhaps most importantly, SROs were responsible for approximately 3% of all referrals over a 3-year period (1,776 out of 57,005 total referrals)… only 95 of those referrals were law violations that we categorized as minor offenses. Thus, assuming there had not been any police stationed in schools during the 3-year period and the schools would not have referred the juveniles themselves if law enforcement were not present (an improbable assumption, as discussed below), then the total number of referrals would have been reduced by about 600 total referrals per year (1,776 referrals for the 3-year period/3 years = 592 referrals per year) and approximately 32 referrals per year (95 / 3 = 31.67) for minor offenses (where SROs typically receive the most criticism). Removing police from schools would thus have a minimal impact in reducing referrals for minor offenses. 

Petty believes that the advocates of ending the practice of having SROs on campus are also getting an outsized amount of attention from the press, which has focused on student activists demanding the defunding of campus police. Petty points out that a new survey of students in the state of Virginia conducted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development in the months before the COVID-19 coronavirus shut down schools across the state reveals that the vast majority of students who were surveyed believe that SRO’s make schools safer.

Nearly three-fourths (73%) of students agreed (agree or strongly agree) that the SRO makes them feel safer at school. This generally positive perception differed across racial/ethnic groups: Black (67.5%), Hispanic (73%), White (75.5%), and Other (72%). On average, Black, Hispanic, and Other race students were less likely than White students to report that the SRO makes them feel safer at school.

Less likely, yes, but overall, non-white students were still overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of having SRO’s in place. You would think new research like this might get at least a little attention while we’re talking about the idea of defunding school police, but I haven’t been able to find a single example of this study being cited in the media, despite the fact that UVA even sent out a press release highlighting the survey results earlier this month.

So what do supporters of SRO’s and armed school staff do to push back against the dominant media narrative when it seems to bear little resemblance to how students, faculty, and parents feel? Ryan Petty says the most important thing is to not be silent. Speak to your local school board, talk to your local superintendent, and if there is a move in your school district to get rid of school resource officers, use this data to show that dumping SROs will likely lead to more students in the criminal justice system, as well as an increase in students who feel unsafe in their school environment. Stay silent, and you may soon find your child’s school has been cleared of cops, while student violence increases.