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New Report Urges Reform of Law Enforcement in Chicago Public Schools

Little Oversight, No Specialized Training Puts Children at Serious Risk

Contact: Michelle Nicolet,
(P) 312.368.2675 


CHICAGO—Police officers stationed in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) operate with little oversight, accountability, and specialized training—a practice that puts children at serious risk of being funneled into the criminal justice system, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.

Handcuffs in Hallways: The State of Policing in Chicago Public Schools comes amid growing national concern over the school-to-prison pipeline and recent investigations by federal officials and journalists that detail Chicago police misconduct with youth, especially those of color.

“School environments should cultivate, rather than criminalize, our children’s personal and academic development,” said Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, Community Justice Staff Attorney at the Shriver Center and author of the report. “If Chicago Public Schools insists on using police officers, those officers must be properly equipped to engage with our city’s children and youth.”

As the report details, school resource officers (SROs), or law enforcement officers permanently assigned to schools, are not required to undergo any specialized training for interacting with children. Moreover, SROs currently operate within CPS with little oversight or accountability for their actions. This has lead to poor outcomes for students, particularly students of color, impairing their ability to learn and develop, imperiling their civil rights, and increasing their likelihood of being swept into the criminal justice system.

Little is known about the disciplinary history of officers assigned to schools. Two thirds of the nearly 250 SROs currently stationed in CPS have at least one misconduct complaint lodged against them. Eleven percent have attracted 10 or more complaints, and some have been allowed to remain stationed in schools even after shooting unarmed students.

Misconduct by SROs has also come at a high price for the City of Chicago. In the past, CPS has paid $13.8 million annually to have CPD officers within their schools. Between 2012 and 2016, the police officers assigned to CPS accumulated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in misconduct settlements for incidents inside CPS.

“It’s time we rethink the role of law enforcement officers in schools,” Mbekeani-Wiley said. “We, as a city and community, cannot afford to keep criminalizing our students.”

The report concludes with recommendations urging CPS and the Chicago Police Department (CPD), in collaboration with community stakeholders, to work together to:

  • Establish a formal agreement that defines the rights and responsibilities of SROs and protects the civil rights of students;
  • Create a formal SRO program that incorporates best practices for training, screening, and recruiting officers;
  • Create and maintain mechanisms for police transparency and accountability that are accessible to key stakeholders; and 
  • Distinguish disciplinary conduct and criminal offenses, so students are not subject to formal law enforcement intervention for ordinary school discipline issues.

“Poor policing in schools is a national epidemic, and it puts students on the fast track to the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Vice President of Advocacy at the Shriver Center. “We look forward to working with community members, school and police officials, and other advocates to make sure Chicago’s children are kept safe and treated fairly in school.”  

A full copy of the report is available at

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. We specialize in practical solutions. We advocate for and serve clients directly, while also building the capacity of the nation’s legal aid providers to advance justice and opportunity for their clients.

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