WASHINGTON (March 9, 2020) – Two weeks ago, a video went viral of an Orlando police officer arresting a six-year-old at her school, with the little girl crying for a second chance. The incident has made Americans across the nation revisit vital questions, such as how to ensure appropriate and positive interactions between law enforcement and children, particularly with the surge of school resource officers (SROs) permanently situated in schools.

In a new policy study, R Street Associate Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Nila Bala and Resident Fellow of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Emily Mooney contend that police officers—particularly those in schools—have an enormous impact on young people as they ultimately decide whether individuals enter the juvenile justice system. When utilized inappropriately, police involvement with school matters can lead to negative unintended consequences, superseding more appropriate responses to childish misbehavior through families and communities.

They find that 43 percent of all public schools reported having sworn law enforcement officers who routinely carry a firearm. Thus, it is imperative that we have specific policies in place to ensure appropriate and positive interactions between youth and police.

They argue that given the conservative principles of limited, effective government as well as conservatives’ concern for fairness and due process, policymakers can work to minimize law enforcement in school settings, promote positive police-youth interactions, and identify and reduce racial disparities.

They conclude that “even the most well-intentioned police officers may cause more harm than good by unnecessarily introducing youth to the justice system, interacting with youth in a manner that leads to a negative impression or by exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in the system.”