While the jury is still out on whether school districts’ police forces are worth the investments, Memphis City Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is moving on with his foregone verdict that his district needs one.
It’s hard to point to any definitive research that suggests that districts creating their own police departments are magically better, but there’s no denying that boys like their toys.
The infatuation with a Memphis City Schools Police Department predates Mr. Cash and extends back to a blatantly perfunctory report that was essentially a conclusion in search of a justification when the city schools first raised the possibility of school police. The report painted a positive portrait of the school police (mainly by only surveying districts that had their own police) and was aimed at propping up a bill in the Tennessee Legislature to allow districts to create their own cops.
It was no secret when Superintendent Cash was hired that he was a devout believer in school police. One of his first hires was controversial former Miami-Dade Public Schools security chief Gerald Darling, who was given the charge to come up with a plan for a school district police force to replace the current hybrid system that includes City of Memphis policemen and school security officers.
We assume that before anyone approves the $10 million police force (there’s always money for pet projects), there will be the release of a comprehensive, coordinated security plan. More than a decade ago, a former Shelby County mayor also wanted his own police force. Then too county government had a hybrid of security guards and deputies, but the mayor then just could not resist the temptation to play sheriff.
So, the county administration created its own police force, complete with its own police cars and powers. It was of course suggested to the public that it was a more economical way of ensuring the public’s safety, but quickly, the costs of the police department ballooned and by the time they were under control again, it was clear that the original idea wasn’t really researched or thought out.
We’re hoping that’s not the case at Memphis City Schools because running a police force seems a long way from the core skills there.
That said, here’s why we think it’s worth a try. Superintendent Cash said that his intention is that the district police force is part of a plan to set up a process that will prevent students – at least the non-violent ones – from being referred to Juvenile Court.
If that can only take place by Memphis City Schools creating its own policemen, we need to know it as the virtues of school cops are evaluated. If that’s the case, it’s pretty much a done deal from our perspective.
The truth is that the behavior of students in Memphis City Schools – because they are poor and African-American – is criminalized much more often than say, students at Houston High School in the Shelby County Schools district. Remember back when every elected official in Memphis was outraged to learn that juveniles arrested in Germantown were not automatically transported to Juvenile Court. The answer by the elected officials was to call for the “rich kids” to be treated the same as the “poor kids.”
We always wondered why the cry that went up wasn’t for Memphis kids to have the same options for interventions as the Germantown students. The truth is that Germantown was doing precisely what it should have, because the decision to place a young person in the juvenile justice system is often tantamount to foreclosing his options for the future.
Any chance that we have to prevent Memphis students involved in non-violent incidents from going to Juvenile Court is an idea worth pursuing, because if you want to see something that is life-altering, it is found in the justice system that turns at-risk students into risky adults, as research has proven
To us, it seems that if Memphis City Schools is going to create its own cops, it needs at the same time to create its own case workers to make sure these students receive the wrap-around social services that can serve as the interventions that can open up real options for their futures.