Blackstone Valley, Education, Local News, News

Pawtucket student arrests trigger questions about school resource officers

[anvplayer video=”690458″ /]

PAWTUCKET, R.I. —  As soon as the video of a school resource officer taking down a student surfaced, Hillary Davis with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union became concerned.

“If you had a principal or a teacher or some other school official who approached that child, they would find ways to calm the kid down, to deal with the situation. They could not arrest them,” she said.

Davis said the ACLU opposes police officers in schools – saying the situation can escalate when a student is arrested.

“The police officer goes into it as a police officer, and very often treats a child like a criminal,” Davis said. “And that’s what happened yesterday.”

She’s referring to the disorderly conduct arrest of a 14-year-old at Tolman High School. The video shows his 17-year-old brother trying to step in.

The older brother was taken down by the police officer and also arrested. The incident spurred protests, resulting in 10 more arrests.

We wanted to know how common it is for districts to employ school resource officers in Rhode Island. The RI Dept. of Education does not keep those statistics, so we contacted all 36 school districts Friday. Of the 26 that got back to us, the vast majority – 22 – have resource officers. Only four districts told us they do not have police officers in their schools.

Barrington’s superintendent said they added a school resource officer just this year.

In Pawtucket, officers have been present in schools since 2007. A City Council Ordinance from that year said Pawtucket police responded to 3,894 total police calls to city schools between 2000 and 2005.

In December 2013, the Council approved another ordinance urging Mayor Donald Grebien to assign officers to every school in the city. In a letter obtained by Eyewitness News, Grebien responded with enthusiasm, announcing he was upping the officer total to six — three in the high schools, and three in the junior high schools.

Grebien declined to do an interview for this story, but his office provided Eyewitness News with a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the Pawtucket Schools and the police department.

In part, the agreement says:

“The SRO shall not be used as a school disciplinarian…If the principal believes an incident is in violation of the law, they may contact the SRO to see if law enforcement action is needed.”

City spokesperson Rico Vota said it’s still under investigation whether the school resource officer from Thursday’s incident was in compliance with that agreement. The city would not identify the officer, but said he was still on duty with full pay.

Ivander and Tyler, the 17-and 14-year-olds that officer arrested Thursday, said they previously trusted the officer.

“I thought he was a good guy. And now I know. True colors really showed,” Ivander said.”

Districts with SROs:

  • Barrington
  • Bristol-Warren
  • Burrillville
  • Chariho
  • Coventry
  • East Providence
  • Exeter-West Greenwich
  • Lincoln
  • Middletown
  • Narragansett
  • Newport
  • North Kingstown
  • Pawtucket
  • Providence
  • Scituate
  • Smithfield
  • South Kingstown
  • Tiverton
  • Warwick
  • West Warwick
  • Woonsocket

Districts without SROs:

  • Foster-Glocester
  • Jamestown
  • New Shoreham
  • North Smithfield

*Not every Rhode Island school district responded to our request about resource officers before this story aired.