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Davenport has new data on crime in the classroom. Will school resource officers remain?
Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus - 6/17/2022
Jun. 16—Most students in Davenport schools feel neutral or positive about interactions they've had with Davenport school resource officers, according to annual survey data from Davenport Community School District.
But a disproportionate number of Black students were arrested by school resource officers and in use-of-force incidents in the past year.
After a year of collecting data on the Davenport school district's school resource officers, Davenport aldermen will vote next week to renew a funding agreement to renew five school resource officers embedded in Davenport schools for the next two school years.
The 28D agreement would assign five Davenport police officers to the district and consolidate what were previously multiple funding agreements into one.
In an annual survey, which 2,425 students and 490 staff members responded to, a majority of students and staff said they felt safe or very safe with a uniformed police officer in their schools.
Of students, 34.1% said they neither felt safe nor unsafe, 33.9% indicated they felt safe, 24.5% said they felt very safe, 5% said they felt unsafe and 2.3% said they felt very unsafe.
Rating interactions with their school resource officer, 7% of student respondents said their interactions were negative or very negative. Most students, 64.9%, said their interactions were neither positive nor negative. And about 18% said they had positive or very positive interactions with a school resource officer.
Crime in the classroom
Davenport also updates its website monthly with calls for service, uses-of-force incidents, charges against juveniles and other interactions such as classes taught and mediations between students. In April, there were 79 calls for service, 48 handled by an officer and 31 handled by the school.
Davenport recorded 11 incidents in the past year where the officers used force against students. All 11 use-of-force incidents were classified as "empty hand," which is when an officer uses bare hands to hold or restrain an individual, for example, to break up a fight.
Of those 11 incidents, 10 students were Black and one student was white.
In the past year, school resource officers handed down 37 charges to students. The largest share of those, 13, were assault with injury. Other charges included assault, nine, trespassing, seven, and felony theft, three.
Of the 37 charges in the past year, 26 charges were leveled against Black students, nine against white students, one against a Hispanic student and one against an Asian student.
A student could have multiple charges for one incident.
According the Davenport schools' website, the district enrolls 15,234 students. Of those students, 55.69% are white, 18.7% are Black, 13.92% are Hispanic and 9.7% are multi-racial.
City of Davenport Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Ott wrote in an email that of 767 calls for service this year, 36 incidents resulted in charges for 41 individuals. Of the 41, 38 were considered "non-discretionary," which means the incident had a victim who wanted charges filed, Ott wrote.
"Just 3 charges were considered 'discretionary.' " Ott wrote. "The discretionary charges are those that the staff is most closely monitoring for disproportionality.
"The 2021-2022 school year was the first year of the SRO program operating under the new MOU (memorandum of understanding)," Ott wrote. "After the review of the first year of data, we consider the MOU to been successful as it outlined a method for reviewing the program based on the statistics collected monthly and available to the community at large. Staff continually monitors the data collected so that we have the ability to respond promptly should any concerns arise."
The city of Davenport and the Davenport School District reached a memorandum of understanding last year that more clearly defined duties, expectations and evaluation of the police officers inside Davenport schools, following concerns raised in the summer of 2020 over the equitable treatment of students of color. Part of that memorandum included monthly data updates on school resource officer interactions.
Davenport has worked for years with the state department of education to address issues brought up in state audits, which included a disproportionate number of students of color being identified for special education services, as well as both students of color and students with disabilities being disciplined at higher and often more severe rates than their peers.
The memorandum requires a yearly evaluation of the resource officer program by the school board president, mayor, city administrator and staff delegates, Ott told school board members this week. The group met twice: Feb. 23 and April 26.
"There were no adjustments that came from that meeting," Ott said.
Davenport Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said the school resource officer data's existence was the first step in addressing disparities and would inform actions going forward to improve outcomes for students and families and reduce disparities.
"Yes, our SRO data is disproportionate, just like our discipline data is disproportionate, our reading times are disproportionate," he said. "And that's something that our district is focused on in looking for ways to improve that. And so that's the purpose of data collection is disaggregating data and looking for ways to improve. And I'm very proud of the process that we have because the very first step is OK, how are we doing? And then what can we do to improve outcomes for students and families in our district?"
So, what's next?
Davenport school leaders meet monthly with NAACP leaders, and the superintendent said soon those community leaders would be trained to participate in mediations as part of the school's restorative justice approach.
Scott County supervisors approved in December more funding for Davenport and Bettendorf schools to bolster the county-based program where trained mediators meet with students who've had conflicts in lieu of out-of-school suspensions. The program is designed to help students resolve conflicts without the use of violence and avoid detention and juvenile court involvement.
"We see students that are getting ready to get into an altercation or a disagreement and the recidivism rate of students that go into this program is almost none," Schneckloth said. "So we know that the strategy works."
At a Davenport School Board meeting this week, board member Karen Gordon said although students and teachers who feel safe and very safe outnumber those who feel unsafe with uniformed officers in schools, she wanted to hear more from those who don't feel safe.
"I would like to know what their reasons are for feeling unsafe despite the police presence in the schools. I have my suspicions what that might be and why that is, but I would like to hear from those people because I think that if we are always catering to the bigger denominator, then we're missing an opportunity to learn and to do better with those who are not the majority," Gordon said.
Michael Guster, president of the Davenport NAACP, said he thought the new school resource officer agreement between the city and the school district was "going OK."
Guster said he didn't favor the idea of having police officers in schools but that he wouldn't oppose the new funding agreement in the wake of recent mass shootings in public places, in particular in Uvalde, Texas, a massacre where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.
"The likelihood that they would even think about taking them out is zero to none," Guster said. "To me, they're trying to do a good job."
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