ICOY supports the removal of police from schools

Publisher: ICOY Staff

Kids in Schools

Authors: Eilene Ladson (ICOY Program Director), Kathryn Culleeny (ICOY Juvenile Justice Manager), & Jocelyn Vega (ICOY Trauma Specialist)

As the nation continues to discuss the efficacy and impact of  School Resource Officers (SROs), some universities and school districts  have  decided to cut ties entirely  with  police in  their learning environments. In alignment with many educators, parents, students, and community members, Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) supports the removal of SROs from schools.  

There is a common misconception that having police in schools creates a safer learning environment for students. However, ample research shows that instead of creating a nurturing environment resourced adequately with the social and mental health services needed to promote healing and prevent traumatic experiences, schools’ usage of SROs can create a punitive, fearful environment that distracts from learning1.  Individual and systemic trauma  impacts students, especially Black and Brown students, in their schools and communities as well as historically  within the realities of over-policing,  mass incarceration, and judicial disparities. 

These same dynamics are replicated in schools, as many SROs are not equipped to provide trauma-informed or restorative services. Research shows that having SROs in schools increases the likelihood of Black and Brown youth being involved in the juvenile justice system and subsequently the school-to-prison pipeline due to the increased use of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.

Research findings show police in schools cause more harm:   

 ICOY  supports the  long-term  advocacy  of community organizers fighting for the removal of SROs from schools and we stand by their efforts to demand school environments that best serve the needs of  students in a trauma-informed way.   ICOY grounds our decision  in  the wealth of research findings (see below) that underline  the  damaging impact  of police in schools, including the  traumatization of students (especially when abusive disciplinary practices are used) and the increased likelihood of entry to  the school-prison pipeline . Overall, evidence shows that police in schools are more likely to harm students’ life development due to the adverse effects they have on students’ psychological, emotional, and mental wellbeing. See our key findings below:  

  • SROs in schools maintain the school-to-prison-pipeline. As found in an empirical review from the University of Florida College of Law, “regular contact with SROs is related to increased odds of referring students to law enforcement for lower-level offenses” that would otherwise be handled by school administrators.3  
  • SROs in schools disparately and negatively impact youth of color, especially Black youth. For example, “data from the 2015-2016 school year collected by the U.S. Department Office of Civil Rights showed that Black students represented 15 percent of the total student enrollment, and 31 percent of students who were referred to law enforcement or arrested” in school.4  
  • Youth with disabilities also experience disproportionate contact  with school resource officers.  In the 2015-2016 school  year, data collected by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights showed that “students with disabilities represented 12 percent of the overall student enrollment and 28 percent of students referred to law enforcement or who were arrested.”5 
  • An empirical review of current research found there is no conclusive evidence that the presence of school-based law enforcement has a positive effect on students’ perceptions of safety in schools.6 
  • In fact,  police presence in schools can lead to decreases in school engagement, lower test scores, and can instead make students feel less safe and more stressed.7   
  • The “immediate presence of police may serve as a psychological trigger that over time has a compounding effect on the nervous and immune systems that may result in anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation, inability to focus, social withdrawal, and aggressive behaviors.”8   
  • Constant,  high levels of stress are known as toxic stress  and severely disrupts brain development, learning, and emotional wellbeing. 9 
  • Strong mental health and social services in schools could help mitigate these high levels of stress and promote school safety.10 

What methods CAN create safer learning environments for youth?

Whether you’re reading this as a parent, a community member, or a youth service professional, we urge you to  rethink what safety  looks like in your community and schools.  Listed below are research-based guidelines and resources that support and offer alternatives to police in schools: 

As a collective voice for youth service providers across Illinois, we believe that all children deserve to have access to the resources and environment they need to reach their full potential. This includes schools that use alternatives to policing, are trauma-informed, equipped with adequate mental health services, and provide a safe environment for all students. 




3 (P. 976) https://scholarship.law.ufl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1782&context=facultypub 

4 (P. 3) https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/school-climate-and-safety.pdf 

5 (P. 4) https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/school-climate-and-safety.pdf 

6 (P. 2) https://www.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/JPRC-Police-Schools-Brief.pdf 


8 (P. 18) https://www.povertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/handcuffs-in-hallways-final.pdf 


10 https://dignityinschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/WhyCounselorsNotCops.pdf 

11 https://www.endzerotolerance.org/single-post/2019/03/11/Research-on-the-Impact-of-School-Policing  

12 https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/2018-10/SAFETY%20IN%20CPS.pdf 

13  https://www.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/JPRC-Police-Schools-Brief.pdf.