As school boards across the country debate the role of public school resource officers, a new report from the Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy, or CRISP, at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute examines in-school policing in the state of Indiana’s largest school district – the Indianapolis Public School district. With in-school policing increasingly commonplace, it is critical to understand how such practices affect academic and social outcomes, specifically for students of color, says Roxy Lawrence, CRISP’s director of evaluation. The CRISP researchers surveyed and interviewed members of the Indianapolis Public School District’s police department as well as school administrators, staff, teachers, students, parents, and caregivers. They also reviewed IPS police department operating procedures and case record data. They found that Black students have the highest arrest rates in the district and are seven times more likely to be arrested than white students. They also found lack of clarity on use-of-force procedures and on definitions of what constitutes criminal behavior. The research team’s report recommends looking outside of school for information that could improve programs to support Black students. They also recommended clear guidelines on what constitutes student misbehavior versus criminal activity, who is responsible for handling which violations, and how those violations should be handled. The report recommends that the school system create opportunities for students and caregivers to interact with officers outside of safety-related situations to foster a more positive environment for students. Finally, the researchers say that more racial equity training for school police officers as well as learning opportunities in areas such as child development and trauma would better equip officers to work with a diverse group of students and strengthen the use of restorative justice practices.
In other news, systemic racism and everyday discrimination in the U.S. have created a major mental health burden for African American communities, with recent high-profile police killings of Black men and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only compounding the stress. IU Bloomington sociologist Brad Fulton says one way to ease that burden is to strengthen relationships between churches and mental health providers. Although Black Americans utilize mental health services at about one-half the rate of white Americans, Fulton notes that many Black churches offer support groups, meetings, and classes that address mental health, which are often overlooked resources for mental health care. Fulton says a recent study indicates that 45% percent of Black congregations offer some form of mental health service and nearly half of all Black churchgoers attend a congregation with such programs. Research conducted by Fulton and colleagues suggests that building collaborations between Black congregations and the mental health sector is a promising strategy to increase access to needed services. According to Fulton, when clinical treatment is supplemented with social support, the likelihood of successful outcomes is greater, and houses of worship often provide built-in social networks. Overall, Fulton says, greater collaboration between congregations and mental health providers could help stem the growing mental health crisis, particularly within African American communities.