The Norman Transcript

January 28, 2014

Make tax temporary

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

At the Jan. 23 meeting on the Public Safety Sales Tax, a plan was presented that would put an additional 12 armed police officers on patrol in the city’s public schools.

As part of the federally-funded Community Oriented Policing Services, the justification offered for this plan is to prevent school shootings.

Increasing the number of armed, uniformed officers on campuses might seem like a sane measure on the surface, but numerous academic studies caution against using SROs as a strategy for curbing school violence. Evidence suggests that schools with SROs are not actually safer than those without.

At the same time we’re using funds to hire more armed police to patrol schools, budgeting for mental health services, school psychologists and counselors has hit an all-time low.

Ironically, in the wake of these tragedies, hand-wringing media commentators often voice outrage that the shooter’s mental condition went unreported or unrecognized.

Replacing education professionals, administrators and counselors with armed officers, juvenile courts and the criminal justice system means that youths are exposed to a greater risk of arrest and incarceration for infractions that would not ordinarily warrant the involvement of law enforcement.

Since the hiring of SROs has risen, the number of juvenile justice referrals has increased dramatically. Studies note these referrals help fuel the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”

As the Oklahoma Department of Corrections continues its trajectory toward privatization, this should sound an alarm bell.

The former head of the the OK DOC, Justin Jones, recently resigned over Gov. Mary Fallin’s enthusiasm for these for-profit prison schemes. He chose not to be complicit in that dehumanizing scam. In interviews, he stated in was a violation of his ethics and his Christian faith.

While the guiding philosophy of community oriented policing leaves us with favorable impressions, carrying it through successfully and using the funds wisely requires a certain continuity of leadership. Norman is fortunate to have a mayor and police chief so invested in the community. Thanks to their leadership, we have better working conditions for our officers, as well as improving relations with the citizens.

But due to the nature of the political process, the exemplary leadership we enjoy today isn’t always a guaranteed thing tomorrow. For these and other reasons, the PSST should remain temporary. Holding a periodic vote to ensure public approval and renew public trust is a good and healthy exercise in democracy.

In addition to fully funding our police, we should ensure our schools are adequately funded and staffed with counselors and education professionals who are trained in recognizing the signs of mental illness. In the ongoing debates over the PSST, these issues deserve consideration as well.

Security theater plays well with the media, but it can create a false impression of safety, which can be even more dangerous. We should not claim to protect students by subjecting them to a constant, armed police presence.

We should be cautioned against letting the justice system and officers of the law become substitutes for lesser forms of discipline. This is unhealthy for our educational institutions and, ultimately, for our democracy. Let’s not make the PSST a permanent tax.

(Details on the above-referenced studies are available at sentencing



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