The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

There are now more police officers in Florida’s schools than nurses — and student arrests are rising

In an image taken from body camera footage recorded Sept. 19, 2019, Officer Dennis Turner of the Orlando Police Department leads a 6-year-old away after arresting the student for allegedly kicking and punching staff members at the Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy Charter School in Orlando. Turner was fired shortly after the arrest. (Orlando Police Department/Orlando Sentinel/AP)

There are now more law enforcement officers in Florida’s K-12 schools than there are nurses, and arrests of students have jumped in the two years since legislators passed a law requiring that every school deploy a police officer or armed school employee, according to a new report.

During a single school year, 2018-2019, the number of youth arrests at school increased 8 percent even though communities around the schools saw a 12 percent decline in the number of youths arrested, the report said. And police officers arrested elementary-age kids 345 times, including an arrest of a 5-year-old and five arrests of 6-year-olds in that same year.

The authors of “The Cost of School Policing: What Florida’s students have paid for a pretense of security,” said there is “little consistent evidence” that the presence of law enforcement led to a drop in the number of student behavioral incidents, indicating that school-based law enforcement officers “were not necessarily making schools safer.”

The report was the result of a collaborative effort led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, the Florida Social Justice in Schools Project, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Equality Florida.

It looks at data collected by the state government to analyze the impact of the Florida Legislature’s decision to mandate that every public school in the state have a police officer or an armed school employee stationed there.

The law was passed less than a month after a gunman on Feb. 14, 2018, killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Along with the mandate for security personnel were some minor additions to gun-control restrictions, including the banning of bump stocks. Seventeen percent of the $400 million bill was directed to mental health programming.

The report also found:

  • The percentage of youth arrests happening at school hit a five-year high of 20 percent.
  • The number of students expelled from school increased 43 percent.
  • For the first time ever, there are more police officers working in Florida schools — 3,650 — than there are school nurses, who number 2,286.
  • The number of police officers in schools is more than double the number of school social workers (1,414) and school psychologists (1,452).
  • Schools reported more than four times as many incidents of using physical restraints on students.

The report says that school districts across the country are now reassessing their relationships with police departments, and it notes that the coronavirus pandemic is straining budgets for nonsecurity issues.

“Many schools are beginning to feel the impacts of covid-19 on their budgets and are struggling to provide the minimum resources needed for education, further calling into question the appropriateness of spending scarce education dollars on policing,” it says.

The report urges the legislature to repeal the mandate that requires a security presence at every school and recommends steps to:

  • Set minimum requirements for training of police in schools.
  • Approve a minimum age for arrest and limitations on the use of force, including tasers and pepper spray, against children.
  • Hire counselors, social workers and school psychologists in adequate numbers to prevent unnecessary referrals to law enforcement.
  • Adopt student codes of conduct with consequences clearly outlined for specified behavior that limit the involvement of law enforcement to those situations posing immediate safety risks.
  • Here’s the full report with county-by-county data: