7 a.m. August 21, 2013

Roll-Call For The School Militia

Despite a political environment in my home state of North Carolina resembling the trench snipers of World War I, one section of the "Current Operations and Capital Improvements Appropriations Act of 2013." (on page 77-78) managed to sneak by most observers:

To Provide a Safe School Environment. – Local boards of education may enter into an agreement with the sheriff, chief of police of a local police department, or chief of police of a county police department to provide security at the schools by assigning volunteer school safety resource officers who meet the selection standards and criteria developed by the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency

Education boards getting a little volunteer help with school security. Seems innocuous enough. But Jason Langberg, who's fought zero tolerance policies in Boston and the Southeast as an attorney and activist, describes these two pages of NC's budget as an unusually radical step:

The legislation requires the “volunteer school safety resource officers” to be trained in the social and cognitive development of children, but does not require training in their proper roles, students with disabilities, students’ rights, supporting students in positive ways, or cultural competency. Additionally, the bill mandates that neither a law enforcement agency nor a school district can be held liable for any “good-faith action” taken by an officer.

As I'll explain in a future article on the evolution of America's zero-tolerance policing in schools (if you haven't signed up for a print subscription to NSFWCORP, do so now), the existing school policing system is bad enough.

Police officers often aren't well suited to school environments. Routine discipline matters can easily turn into criminal charges if a particular officer feels like it on a particular day. This already causes major issues with arbitrary discipline and giving simply defiant teenagers a criminal record for minor problems before they even reach adulthood.

But at least law enforcement officers have a degree of oversight from their local government. Armed volunteers? Not so much. A look at the school “safety” bills since the tragic Newtown shooting shows that the NC measure is among the more radical steps.

Some proposed laws, even in Southern states, were actually intended to constrain the already formidable powers of school resource officers. Not this one: instead the budget permits schools to use volunteers, gives them the same arrest power as regular police officers, immunizes them from lawsuits, and allows them to be armed. That means tasers, batons, guns, the whole nine yards, with less training than even a rural sheriff's deputy might receive.

Sheriffs are elected in North Carolina, after all, and while that's already somewhat problematic, this law gives them their own school posse. Sometimes sheriff's elections result in the spot going to a good, reasonable law enforcement officer. Sometimes, like our county's former sheriff (currently serving a 15-year stint in federal prison) you get a corrupt bastard that runs his own criminal gang. Congrats: his ilk can now send whomever they wish, with few restrictions, to enforce a student crackdown.

Because these officers are volunteers—and thus don't cost a dime —they're more appealing than ever to cash-strapped school systems. As NC has no shortage of those, including some with serious discipline and crime problems, it's easier than ever to stock up on these helpful types, and easier than ever to work them into the system with minimal review in the vain hope they'll improve an already complicated, nasty situation.

Armed volunteers aren't police, and they aren't soldiers. They're militia, bluntly, and without a second of debate North Carolina's legislature has given them the powers to detain and arrest a diverse student population according to their own judgment.

Don't live in North Carolina? Don't get too complacent; given the right political climate, it's coming to your state too. Everyone loves police in schools, and they'll love the militia too, until they lock up your kid.