BY KIM BELLWARE

Last week Chicago’s Office of Inspector General announced that, despite its scathing 2018 report which found that Chicago officers in public schools (school resource officers, or SROs) are severely lacking training and oversight, neither the Chicago Police Department nor Chicago Public Schools has taken meaningful action to rectify that. In response, Lightfoot hinted to the Sun-Times that she was losing patience on the SRO issue, saying the matter “should have been taken care of a long time ago,” and questioning police officers’ role in schools.

“Who should be in effect the first responders when there’s a confrontation that happens in the schools? I’ve pushed them to ask the question as to whether or not police officers are the right trained personnel to respond to these incidents,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times.

"They say you're put here for a reason," Darren Wright says, "and my reason is to be a schools officer." Photo by Bill Whitmire/Chicago Reader

"They say you're put here for a reason," Darren Wright says, "and my reason is to be a schools officer." Photo by Bill Whitmire/Chicago Reader

Per the 2018 report, the SRO program overall operates "contrary to national established best practices.” The OIG cited a 2017 investigation by City Bureau and the Chicago Reader that outlined how police who work within public schools lack specialized training to work in an education setting with children. Meanwhile, community members whose children attend the schools — and often come into contact with officers is troubling ways, including arrest — have few mechanisms for oversight or accountability on those officers.

Based on the results of the evaluation, the city inspector general issued five key recommendations for CPS and CPD to  implement “immediately.” Of the five recommendations, the OIG notes that only one has been put into practice:

Implemented:

  • CPD logs and regularly updates its roster of officers assigned to work in CPS.

Not Implemented or “pending implementation”:

  • CPD and CPS have not made a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the community that states the purpose of the SRO program, outlines organizational responsibilities, establishes training protocols that emphasize alternatives to arrest and limits police involvement in routine student discipline. (MOUs are formal, but non-legally binding agreements struck between interested parties).   

  • CPD and CPS have not created hiring guidelines for SROs with input from community members such as parents, teachers and students.

  • There are still no department policies and procedures that address SRO recruitment, selection, placement, training, roles and responsibilities or evaluation.

  • CPD still has no program coordinator to help the school district, police and community stay connected and accountable on the SRO program.

CPD officials say they’ve held nine community input meetings to discuss “school resource officers,” but as the Sun-Times reports, most of the meetings were secretive, and by invitation only; all but one, a May meeting in Bronzeville, were closed to the general public.

In an email to City Bureau describing the lone public meeting, Veronica Rodriguez, a youth organizer with Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said the meeting felt like a way for CPD to “check a box” on the public pledge to involve the community while at the same time disregarding community input. Rodriguez noted that invitees were required to RSVP online, and that CPS and CPD only reached out to select organizations.

“When we entered the gym, there was a police officer outside of her uniform, carrying a gun. We felt uncomfortable and unsafe immediately,” Rodriguez said. “This same police officer was joining us at our discussion tables. How are we supposed to feel, having someone in a table with a gun, listening to youth who are already targeted by their SRO, listening to you complain about them?”

Rodriguez said that SROs were assigned to take notes at the tables where different topics were being discussed, but actively responded and gave their perspective anytime a community member made a suggestion or comment about police in schools.

“The question being asked was ‘what do you want police to do in schools?' Never, ‘do you want police in schools?’” Rodriguez said.

As state lawmakers moved to require additional training for police in Illinois schools in the spring of 2018 (it later passed and took effect this January), City Bureau and WBEZ spoke to five young people on whether they felt the legislation would make a real difference in their lives.

Listen: Special Training For School Police: How Do Young People Feel About It?

While CPS has had police in schools for decades—and disproportionately in South and West Side schools with predominantly Black and brown student populations—Chicago may see some movement on the issue, now that Lightfoot is in office.

In addition to the comments she made to the Sun-Times, Lightfoot received a transition report last month (from committees that she convened to provide recommendations to her administration) that said the use of SROs should be evaluated and discussed openly with community members within the first 100 days of her administration. The SRO program “should be tailored to the needs of each school’s student body and ... should reflect input from school-community stakeholders,” the report said.

Though the OIG is only empowered to investigate, oversee and issue legally non-binding recommendations, the mayor oversees CPD and CPS and has the power to hire and fire the departments’ top brass. (Some former inspectors general and government watchdog groups have called for the office to have more teeth, Chicago’s aldermen and past mayors have largely resisted giving the OIG more power.)

Chicago’s municipal code does give the OIG the power to conduct public hearings at the City Council’s request. A spokesperson from the OIG told City Bureau this week that after its SRO report was issued last year, at least 20 aldermen requested a public hearing. Former chair of the Public Safety Committee, ex-Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), never acted; Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the new committee chair, has promised hearings, according to the Sun-Times.

The Public Safety Committee did not immediately respond when reached by City Bureau for details on when the meetings will be held; we’ll update you when it does.

Until then, community members can attend their Local School Council meetings and local Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings to raise concern.

We should note that LSC and CAPS meetings are set up to address neighborhood-level issues rather than ones with city-wide implications, like the SRO program—these meetings are an alternative until the Public Safety Committee holds public hearings.


Meetings This Week:

Looking for ways to engage your public school in the discussion around police in Chicago Public schools?

Search your address or ZIP code in our Documenters.org widget to find Chicago Public Schools’ Local School Councils and Community Action Council meetings within 2.5 miles. We will not track or save your address or ZIP code in any way.

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Looking for ways to engage your local police department in the discussion around police in Chicago Public schools?

Here are the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings for the three community areas with the most police officers in schools (districts 2, 7 and 8):


Visualize It:

School Resource Officer (SRO) placement by Chicago Police District, based on data from the Chicago Office of the Inspector General.

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