Decision to drop police officers backfires on St. Paul schools

St. Paul Public Schools were among the first to jump on the anti-law enforcement bandwagon following the death of George Floyd in police custody, purging police officers stationed in seven city high schools. But in their haste to accommodate Black Lives Matter and other activists, the St. Paul School Board dropped the ball. When the administration relieved school resource officers of their duty in the hallways, the Pioneer Press says the district let go the cops who also provided public protection at numerous athletic events.

The St. Paul school board’s decision to remove police officers from its high schools last year has left a gap in security coverage for big football and basketball games.

In past years, school athletics directors would pay overtime for their school resource officers to attend games where big crowds were expected. But without that pipeline, and with the police department short on officers, police have been absent from district athletic fields this fall.

The school district and police department now are working on an overtime contract that would bring officers back for select games.

“While we remain hopeful we will eventually be able to have SPPD at our games, we continue staffing events with school personnel, contract security, and Security and Emergency Management staff,” said Laura Olson, the district’s security director.

Altercations have already broken out at football games this fall. But with no school resource officers on the ground to respond as in previous seasons, some of the individuals involved were long gone by the time authorities got there.

An assistant principal told police one boy punched the other from behind several times and kicked him in the head while he was on the ground. Medics transported him to Children’s Hospital.

Meanwhile, another district staffer told police about video that showed a fight in the parking lot. While gathering information, the officers were told a second boy had arrived at Regions Hospital, saying he had been injured at Central.

Officers went to Children’s to talk to the first boy but he refused to give a statement. While they were leaving, they learned a third teen had just arrived at Children’s; he reportedly had been stabbed during a fight at Central.

All of which points out the need for law enforcement, who’ve been sidelined due to the district’s politicized decision to bench them last year. But school officials acknowledge the hallway monitors who took the officers’ place are ill-equipped to handle security challenges at games.

The move was made against the advice of school principals but amid concerns — inflamed by the police killing of George Floyd — that the presence of armed officers in schools leads to unnecessarily harmful consequences for teens who commit crimes or break school rules.

In their place, the district installed a new cohort of support staffers trained in deescalation.

Superintendent Joe Gothard told the school board this week that he never intended for the end of the school resource officer program to also stop the practice of hiring off-duty cops for football and basketball games.

Despite the reality check that reinforces the need for law enforcement at the games, some activists on the school board still refuse to admit they blew it.

Chauntyll Allen, a school board member and Black Lives Matter activist, balked at the notion that police are needed at school events.

Officers earning overtime are “overpaid in that situation” and “not as effective” as school security staff who know many of the students who attend games, she said.

“We keep going back into the box … and the box doesn’t work. The box creates mass incarceration,” she said.