Rules for Educators, Rule 1; Don’t Call the Cops

In 3rd grade my godson was handcuffed and put in a police car in full view of his school.  He tried to push past a staff member because they had his ball, and he thought he was entitled to it during recess. He was having a bad day.  He had too many bad days for a kid his age, but he ended up in a police car.   

Concerned staff from a neighborhood school called me this year, a kindergartener at their school had the cops called on him, he was handcuffed.  The police, were surprised to see how young he was and didn’t want to do anything. 

At the school I ran years back, we were in a district building and some kids lit a fire in a bathroom.  Schools in NYC have school security officers at the front door.  They responded.

Needless to say, the victims are all Black boys.  In all these cases it was trash.  Kids were not helped, and they were actually disserved and stigmatized. 

1400 Police calls in OUSD

My godson didn’t want to go back to school.  I don’t know the story of the kindergartener.  And the kids at my school, were vaguely threatened by the school safety officers that they would be sexually assaulted. 

“You think you are tough, see how tough you are in juvenile, they will like you there.”  Something like that, in an effort to get him to confess.

This kid did not flinch though, even as his co-conspirator confessed.  He was stone faced.  He knew the code.  And had probably experienced worse.  He wouldn’t confess and that pissed off the school cops, who treated this 5th grader like an adult.

Last I saw, from 2016, the police were called to Oakland schools more than 1,400 times from November to April.  Though police only arrested 11 students on campus during the April-November period, seven for school-related offenses.  Which seems to show some restraint, and there are reports of progress.  Though many remember the video of the school security officer who punched a disabled student in his wheelchair.

A Crime, Childish Mistake, or Wellness Issue

The kids at my school also could have been charged with serious crimes and expulsion worthy offenses, including arson, which is what the principal I shared the building with suggested.  Instead we classified the actions as “putting others at risk” and “possession of contraband.”

If you call yourself an “educator” and I use that term broadly, don’t call the cops.

Never call the cops in elementary school, be loathe to do it in middle school, and only do it in high school if there is a legitimate threat to someone’s safety.  Not some perceived threat (he is a big Black kid and he said something I perceive as threatening coming from him). I get that you kind of need to call the cops in the school shooting threat situation, whether they respond is another issue.  

But in general, don’t call the cops.

When some kid is melting down and having an emotional crisis and says some crazy stuff—don’t call the cops.  They need help.

If some elementary school kid is getting physical with a staff member, a) you should be able to de-escalate them 99% of the time and b) you should be able to physically prevent them from hurting an adult or themselves- Don’t call the cops.  Again, they need some help.

Even when the kids are big and technically could hurt someone physically, you are the trained adult, someone should have a relationship who can talk them down.  These kids need some help.

Nothing against all the folks in blue holding it down.  But cops, even school cops, are not mental health workers.  And when you see a child threatening harm to himself or others, or even physically inflicting it, we need to address those behaviors, and need to help dig underneath to understand root causes.  We ultimately need to find ways to help.

That is not how cops are trained, and that is not their day to day job.  And chances are they will not help.  They likely won’t resolve the situation productively.

You may have seen the powerful story of the coach talking down an armed young man, having him drop his weapon, and hugging him.

Imagine the scene if SWAT rolled up.  Or he is confronted by armed officers.  A child in crisis with a shotgun.

I would rather not.

So, if you are an educator please remember rule 1.  Don’t call the cops.

What do you think?

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