DC leaders examine school police pilot program

A handful of D.C. schools started the year taking part in a pilot program to reimagine police on campus.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called a hearing Tuesday to learn the early results of the program.

“At this time of the school year, DCPS has been managing school’s security contract for just over a year,” Mendelson said. “We’re interested in how DCPS has transitioned and what steps will be taken with regard to improving security.”

The hearing built on two other previous public sessions in which city leaders asked for people to weigh in on security in D.C. schools.

Last year amid the “defund the police” national debate, lawmakers voted to do away with the D.C. police department’s $23 million contract with the school district, which paid for school resource officers on campus. The city moved to hire hundreds of unarmed security guards instead.

The district then created a pilot program that would test the effectiveness of hiring staff members skilled at addressing behavior and mental health issues, in the place of security guards. Roughly 20 schools signed up to take part in the pilot.

School leaders are already seeing results.

“We’ve seen some positive trend data,” said Dr. Brenda Elliott, chief of School Improvements and Supports. “We’ve seen across the pilot schools a 50% reduction in the use of out-of-school suspensions for discipline infractions.”

But, one person who testified stood up for police on campus. Willie Cromartie works at Security Assurance Management, a firm that was hired to bring security guards on campuses.

“These officers show up because they care about the kids,” Cromartie said. “They’re preventing things from getting inside these schools on a daily basis. We’re taking about fights and knives. For the record, we’re doing the best we can do to keep our kids safe.”

School leaders say they want to collect data from a full school year before they consider expanding the program, Elliott said.

While the pilot schools still have security guards on campus, principals told Mendelson that their new staffers can take measures school resource officers couldn’t, like mediate disputes on campus and contact parents about a specific student or issue.

“She’s amazing. She’s able to supervise students in a different way than she was in her former role,” said Lucas Cooke, principal of Hardy Middle School in Northwest DC, who hired a former resource officer into one of the staffer positions. “It’s really worked out quite well for us.”

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