RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — During the 2018-2019 school year, 121 Richmond Public School students were arrested in school by student resource officers or magistrates primarily for offenses including assault, drug possession and weapons possession — with a majority of the arrests happening at Martin Luther King Middle School and Huguenot High School.
The numbers decreased during the 2019-2020 school year, but showed a similar trend as the previous year with the majority of arrests happening at MLK Middle and Huguenot High schools.
Recent protests in the City of Richmond ignited discussions between school board members and superintendent Jason Kamras about the role of student resource officers (SROs) within RPS.
The role of a student resource officer, according to RPS, is to become an active member of the school community. SROs are also “expected to not get involved in routine disciplinary actions that are not violations of the law, nor in the physical restraint of a student unless there is imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others,” according to school board documents.
SROs receive 40 hours of training from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which provides training on how to work with students with disabilities and trauma-informed practices.
According to data presented to the school board on June 15, RPS had 13 school resource officers working at Armstrong (2), George Wythe (2), Huguenot (2), John Marshall (1), Thomas Jefferson (1), Boushall (1), Elkhardt-Thompson (1), Henderson (1-Vacant), MLK (1) and Richmond Alternative School (1).
Richmond Police Department officers volunteer to serve as SROs and RPD pays their salaries.
However, Richmond Public Schools pays overtime to SROs who provide security at after school activities and sporting events. During the 2018-2019 school year, RPS paid SROs $48,213.20 in overtime for those events.
8News spoke to Ronnie Armstead, Lieutenant of SRO’s, and he says the goal is always safety and deescalation. Armstead shared the arrest process is handled on a case-by-case basis and that SRO’s mostly simple assaults, mostly fights between students. He says an arrest depends on the severity on an incident.
“Sometimes a parent wants to press charges, sometimes the school will handle it, but it if gets to the level of an arrest SRO’s must follow Virginia juvenile justice laws.”
Armstead goes on to say that SRO’s are hoping to get back in the classroom soon and further building a positive bond with the youth, especially in these trying times.
In addition to providing SROs for RPS, the Richmond Police Department is in charge of several SRO-led programs including Boys and Girls in Blue, Extra-Curriculars (Band, Flag Football, Basketball), Mirror Me Program, Richmond Police Athletic League and the RPD Cadet Program (RTC).
During Monday night’s school board meeting, member Felicia Cosby said she is alarmed by the number of arrests made by student resource officers.
RPS School Board Member Scott Barlow said if they get rid of student resource officers, RPS needs to find a way to address the behavior that’s leading to the arrests. Barlow said whether RPS gets rid of SROs or not, he’d like to see the number of arrests at schools decrease.
Another school board member, Dawn Page, says the data shows some children are being disciplined differently than others, based on the breakdown by arrests at each school.
“Our babies at Boushall and MLK are just as important as those at Hill and Binford and throughout our school division,” Page expressed. “All of our children matter.”
The data shows schools with officers have higher arrests while those who don’t, such as Binford and Albert Hill, have significantly fewer arrests, if any at all.
Harry Hughes, Chief Schools Officer for RPS, says, “The data shows disproportionate arrests across our division and that is very alarming”.
School board member Kenya Gibson of the 3rd District pointed out that there’s a correlation between arrest numbers and whether the school has a SRO — schools with SROs have higher arrest rates.
Gibson said they need people to break up fights, but that person doesn’t necessarily need to have a gun and badge.
RPS is considering removing SROs from RPS schools, but school board members are calling for more data and public hearings before a decision is made.
In a statement to 8News, RPS spokesperson Danielle Pierce said RPS in the process of reviewing their relationship with RPD — which includes re-evaluating which schools have SROs and which schools do not.
Public hearings are scheduled for August 10 and 14. Focus groups with students will be held on August 13 and 27.