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News & Events

Research Insights: Police may not make schools safer

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Ben Fisher, associate professor of Civil Society & Community Studies, was the lead author of a recently published study that looked at the effectiveness of school-based law enforcement, often called school resource officers. In this Q&A, Fisher talks through the results of his research.

What did this study find?

When we have police in schools, they’re not providing benefits for school safety, they’re not reducing crime, they’re not reducing violence — but they are escalating the punishment of students, especially through things like suspension.

Why does this matter?

We spend a lot of money every year on having police in schools. I think there’s a sense of wanting to get a good bang for your buck — that if we’re spending taxpayer dollars on something, we want to know that it’s having benefits. And what our study found is that, on average, those benefits aren’t really being realized.

A white man smiling, with short brown hair, wearing a blue shirt.
Dr. Ben Fisher

One of my friends used the analogy of a drug trial: if we conducted a drug trial and found that the drug was not helpful but had a bunch of harmful side effects, we would stop funding that drug trial. We would look for something else. With the issue of police in schools, the research so far is pointing us in that direction: we’re not seeing the benefits we would want to see, and we’re seeing plenty of negative side effects.

What action should be taken?

I think part of it is backing away from the assumption that police have to be in schools. There’s another way to do education, and plenty of schools function just fine without police in them. Currently, multiple states require police to be in schools, and I think it’s necessary to reexamine those policies. Everybody wants schools to be safe places, but this particular intervention is both expensive and, if we’re to believe the evidence, ineffective. It’s probably not the best way of spending our money or treating our students.

What follow-up research is being done?

One of the natural conclusions from this study is that maybe we ought to be taking police out of schools. A study I’m working on right now is examining what happens when we do that — in particular, does it help resolve some issues with racial inequality that we see when police are in schools.

This study, titled “School-based law enforcement strategies to reduce crime, increase perceptions of safety, and improve learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools: A systematic review,” was published in the December 2023 issue of Campbell Systematic Reviews. A plain-language summary written for non-academic audiences is available from the Wiley Online Library.