Instances of Students Being Handcuffed and Arrested for Incidents at School Often Presented Out of Context

In recent years, there have been media reports (as well as at least one document presented as a research report) that have provided distorted information about how school/law enforcement partnerships operate.  There have been at least two “reports” prepared by civil rights groups that contain inaccurate information that would likely not withstand a proper peer review process and a number of media reports that contain incomplete accounts of situations where law enforcement officers are involved with what are often termed to be normal disciplinary actions.  While some instances do involve relatively minor disciplinary situations, other offenses referred to have actually involved situations including forcible rape, edged weapons assaults and other serious criminal acts.

Today’s educators and their community partners face many challenges in appropriately addressing students and non-students who become disruptive and sometimes even violent.  While there are definitely instances where school employees and law enforcement officers have acted inappropriately and in some instances even in violation of criminal laws in restraining students and implementing disciplinary actions, there have also been a number of instances where inaccurate, inflamed and incomplete information has been provided in the media and in other forums.

Student Arrests in the Media

Three decades in this field has taught me to be careful about passing judgment based on media accounts.  For example, if any of you remember the initial media frenzy after the Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.   Though not initially a suspect, Richard Jewell was implicated by the media as a person of interest in the case.  When the actual bomber, Eric Rudolph, continued to carry out bombings in the area, Jewell was found to be innocent, but his reputation had been ruined in the media by that point.  He was actually a hero and saved countless lives that day by his actions.  While working security at the event, he used good judgment and pattern recognition to detect the explosive device and start moving people away from it almost 10 minutes before the initial bomb threat call came in.  Though two bystanders were killed when the bomb exploded, there would have almost certainly been more killed and injured if it were not for his actions.  I had the good privilege to have him attend several of my presentations after that incident, and he struck me as one of the kindest and most polite people I have ever met.

I have also learned to question “reports” and even peer review journal articles, which on occasion are seriously flawed and provide inaccurate conclusions and assertions.  Though many such documents are extremely accurate and can be helpful to us, it is not hard to find “reports” that show an increase in the U.S. school homicide rate that clearly does not exist or peer review articles that assert falsehoods like the “trench coat mafia” that never existed at Columbine High School.

The current dialogue relating to the appropriate utilization of arrest and restraint by law enforcement officers in schools is a valid and important discussion and there is clearly opportunity for improvements in the field.  At the same time, specific incidents are sometimes inaccurately portrayed as the norm in the field of education and couched in emotional ways.  Taking the time to look beyond the headlines about student arrests with an understanding that this is a complex as well as troubling societal problem can go a long way towards successfully working towards improved approaches.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.