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As PA Teens Protest Cop’s Use of Force, a Reminder: There’s No Federal Law for Training School Officers

By Mark Keierleber | May 23, 2016

High school students in Philadelphia hit the streets last week, protesting a school police officer’s alleged use of force against a teen and prompting calls across the state that school security officers receive specialized training before they go to work in a school setting.

But earlier this month, a state audit found that many of the city’s school police officers have not completed the training required by state law. And as my previous investigations into school resource officers have shown, there is no federal mandate that officers working in schools receive any specialized training in working with minors.

This comes at the same time as The 74 investigation showing that four of America’s top 10 school districts are now employing more security officers than counselors. Here’s our summary on school safety, staffing, training and recent episodes of extreme force:

The 74 Investigates:


Pennsylvania, like most states, does not have a law that requires school police officers to receive student-oriented training, like the restorative justice de-escalation technique that youth rights advocates have argued would better prepare law enforcement officials to work with children and young adults.

The new wave of protests follow a May 5 incident at Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin High School, in which a student says he was punched in the face and placed in a “chokehold” because he didn’t have the proper hall pass to use the bathroom.

Across the country, calls for enhanced school resource officer training requirements have frequently followed use-of-force allegations against an officer. In recent years, these incidents have increasingly been captured with cell phone videos. In this incident, a video posted online shows the officer restraining the student by his neck:

 


The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have recommended school-based officers receive specialized training, including training that addresses implicit bias and cultural competence, yet only 12 states have laws that require specific training for school police.



In Pennsylvania, school police officers are required to complete the municipal police officers’ education and training program or graduate from the Pennsylvania State Police Academy and to have been employed as a state trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police. Like other police officers, they’re also required to complete at least 12 hours of annual in-service training.

“School police forces, especially those in a district the size of the School District of Philadelphia, must be properly qualified and well trained to respond to the volume and types of incidents occurring in its schools,” according to the state audit. “Having improperly qualified or insufficiently trained school police officers could compromise the safety of District students and staff.”

Although the Pennsylvania Auditor General has recommended the School District of Philadelphia only hire school police officers who have completed formal state or municipal police officer training, as required by law, the audit released on May 11 showed many of the school district’s police officers did not have required background checks and had not completed the required training.

Since a 2011 audit, the school district has hired 72 new school police officers, representing about 25 percent of the school district’s police officers, none of which had the necessary training requirements laid out in the state law.

In response to the audit, the district argued its security officers do not undertake the same duties as other police officers in the city. Additionally, the district said it doesn’t receive money to provide the training, unlike municipalities.

Although Philadelphia school police officers are unarmed, they are able to issue summary citations or detain individuals until local law enforcement officials arrive at the scene of an incident.

“We currently provide a wide range of training sessions throughout the year for our school police officers,” the district said in a response to the audit. “In the last two years, our officers have received training on subjects such as legal updates, single school culture, positive behavior support, report writing, basic investigations, customer service, and special education training.”

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