Phasing out resource officers in DC schools to continue as planned

School resource officers are one step closer to being phased out in the District’s public schools.

In an 8-5 vote Tuesday, the D.C. Council stuck with a plan to gradually reduce the number of school resource officers in public and charter schools from 60 personnel starting July 1 of this year, to 40 personnel in 2023, then 20 personnel by 2024, ending the program altogether by 2025.

The vote was taken as a part of a broader budget discussion. Mayor Muriel Bowser put forward a subtitle to the budget that would keep the SRO program in place as-is for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The SRO program is run by the D.C. police.

A second vote on the proposed budget is set for May 24.

“It’s important to note here: They didn’t ask for more time. They didn’t ask for more money. They didn’t lay out a plan or a vision for alternatives that they would like,” Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said.

“They’re just telling us to scrap the plan because they’re not interested in creating that more holistic non-law enforcement approach to school safety.”

The move was taken from a report issued by the D.C. Police Reform Commission in April 2021 suggesting the police presence in schools be eliminated and replaced with professionals in “positive youth development.”

That would include trained educators, counselors and mediators, according to Allen.

A majority of school leaders who testified at a hearing last month were in favor of keeping the program. On Tuesday, supporters of Bowser’s effort to keep SRO funding cited the violent atmosphere they say has overtaken the city.

“Our city and its schools are experiencing a frightening surge in crime and violence perpetrated by students, parents and other members of our local communities,” Council Chair Phil Mendelson said. “Amid this crime wave driven largely by juvenile offenders, our members and other school staff are scared for their safety.”

Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White mentioned he met with 75 juveniles over the weekend, and said their top two concerns were safety in schools and safe transportation to and from school.

He also told a constituent’s story about how a fight among students caused multiple parents to visit the school to check on their children, and then a fight broke out among the parents who had arrived.

“This the climate that we’re in right now,” White said.

Allen and others, however, criticized the SRO program as ineffective.

“The argument I’m hearing is that violence is spreading in our schools right now … we have SROs floating around our schools. Therefore, the current system is not working to keep our students safe,” Councilmember Robert White said.

“So if the current system is not working to keep our students safe, and our argument is that our best bet to keep students safe is to keep doing the same thing, then we are fundamentally missing the point.”

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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