Under the new system, traditional public and charter schools — from elementary through senior high — are grouped into geographic “clusters” based on population, neighborhood crime statistics and truancy rates. Police say the strategy is needed in part because of the District’s changing educational landscape, in which charter schools have been growing quickly and now enroll more than 40 percent of students.
The deployment change comes as school systems across the country debate school safety — and whether schools need armed guards — after last year's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I must say in a time when security is [of] the utmost importance, all schools should have a dedicated [officer] and in some cases more than one,” said Aona Jefferson, president of the council of school officers, a union that represents principals. “I’m concerned about the response time when there’s an emergency in a school.”
D.C. police note that each public school also has permanent, private security guards, some as many as 11, who provide day-to-day protection and monitor access to buildings. Those 253 unarmed guards are hired by D.C. police under a $15 million contract but unlike police are not deployed to charters, which have to hire their own private security.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the primary role of the 102 armed school resource officers — about 60 on days, 23 on nights and the rest supervisors — is to mediate disputes before they escalate and deal with truancy. “It’s really to have them be a resource to students, to try to keep them in school,” she said. “The number of crimes reported in schools is very low.”
According to the D.C. police School Safety and Security report, school police officers in 2011 made nearly 500 arrests and mediated more than 2,300 disputes. Lanier described this year’s changes as evolutionary, and she said that some clusters have more officers than schools and that there is flexibility to move officers based on need.
D.C. charters are taxpayer-funded institutions that operate as independent school districts. They receive the same per-
student tax funding, but they do not get some of the government resources — such as legal services — that benefit traditional schools. Many charters do not follow traditional grade divisions, nor do they have standard hours.
Charter schools lacked regular police presence until fall 2009, when a spate of violence near Northeast Washington’s Friendship Collegiate Academy spurred city leaders to begin providing charters with protection.