Blurred Lines: Policing Principles And Principals
September 19, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Think back to elementary school. Remember second grade. Recount being just 7 years old. The smaller of most of your classmates. Imagine being just under 4 feet tall. Weighing less than 50 pounds. Add in a hearing disability. Now, imagine the bullying. Being teased for being small. Laughed at for a disability.
Imagine crying in class, no longer able to take it. Now imagine being taken from class. Placed in handcuffs. Dragged to the principal’s office. Imagine the terror of believing you’re being arrested. No, you’re not the bully. You’re the victim. Yet, you are the one restrained, handcuffed, and taken to the principal’s office.
Though this happened in 2014, the family is now suing the Kansas City Public Schools and Officer Brandon Craddock for unlawful restraint and excessive force. This is what our schools have come to. Police officers, school resource officers, handling school disciplinary problems. Handcuffing 7-year-old children for crying in class, for refusing to follow the officer’s command to be quiet as they walked to the principal’s office.
In the lawsuit, the family alleges Officer Craddock was not summoned to the classroom, but rather was simply walking by, heard the crying, stuck his head in the door and summoned the child to the hallway. While in the hallway, Craddock apparently attempted to cart the child along with him on an errand to speak with another teacher on an unrelated matter. The child was reportedly frightened and began crying more, even pulling away from the officer as the officer pulled the child by the wrist down the hall.
When the child did not respond to Craddock’s “warnings” to stop crying, Craddock handcuffed the child and led him to the front office. Upon delivering the child to the principal, Craddock told the principal the child was “out of control in his classroom and refused to follow my directions.” Once the child’s father arrived, the handcuffs were removed. Interestingly, the father arrived not because of the police encounter but because the classroom teacher had called him due to the child being teased in class.
The lawsuit alleges violations of school policy:
Policy from the Missouri Department of Education says that kids should only be restrained in response to “emergency or crisis situations.”
Yet, a statement from the school district says police officers are not beholden to department of education policies.
Contrary to reports that KCPS security officers violated certain [Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] regulations, all KCPS officers are commissioned by the Kansas City Police Department in accordance with state law. This important distinction alters the parameters of their capacity to act in certain situations.
Isn’t that grand? The Department of Education mandates school policy, but school resources officers are commissioned police officers and are not bound by policies. Never mind that no crime had been committed. Never mind that no school official asked for police assistance or intervention. Never mind that the officer hadn’t even bothered to inquire of the teacher why the child might be crying in class. Instead Craddock decided he would intervene and enforce school discipline by removing a student from class and escorting him to the principal.
This is exactly where the line is blurred. Is the officer acting in his official capacity? Is he effectuating an arrest? Or is he acting as a school official and assisting the principal in enforcing discipline? If no crime had occurred, what reason does the officer have for removing the student from class? Sure, he said the child was “out of control” but is that a criminal (or juvenile) offense under which he has jurisdiction?
This suit comes on the heels of the Obama administration outlining how schools should manage their relationships with police officers who work on campus.
Police officers can be a force for good in a school by building strong relationships with students, Education Secretary John King said in a call with reporters Wednesday. But too often they become de facto disciplinarians leading to unnecessary citations and altercations. He pointed to the case last year in which a South Carolina sheriff’s deputy was filmed throwing a high school student out of her chair and across her classroom.
In short, the administration urged memorandums of understanding between schools and police that explicitly state the police role is not to administer day-to-day discipline. Officers can keep our students safe, but they should not be involved in discipline or enforcing school rules. Otherwise, the line continues to blur.
Instead of creating a healthy and safe learning environment, actions like Craddock’s can result in student’s no longer feeling safe in school. The officer becomes part of the emotional and psychological harm that other bullies were already inflicting upon the child. Being removed from class causes more embarrassment. Being handcuffed and escorted through the halls adds to the emotional toil. Discipline can and should be handled in school – but it’s incumbent upon our educators and administrators to handle that discipline. The principles of policing have no place in the principal’s office.