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Photo: TheNotebook.org
Photo: TheNotebook.org

Police reform sparks the discussion of abolishing police in Philly schools

Police in schools will now be known as “safety officers” rather than police officers and be unarmed.

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Police-free schools have garnered national attention amid protests around the world on police brutality. 

A petition that went up at the beginning of July by the Philadelphia student union for the removal of cops in schools has now received more than 9,000 signatures almost overnight. 

The petition states that: “We believe that black lives matter. We believe it's time this country addressed the role of police in maintaining white supremacy and control in communities. We believe that young people have to be their own leaders.”

They add that what the petition calls for is: 

  • Remove all police and school resource officers from schools.
  • Have the Office of School Safety replace school police with community members trained in de-escalation, restorative justice, and other skills that support healthy schools and communities. 
  • End its memorandum of understanding with the Philadelphia Police Department. Disciplinary and other school infractions should be dealt with by administration and staff, not the police.

Now, Philadelphia school officials will rebrand school police as “safety officers.” These officers will wear less security uniforms and will have different job responsibilities. The name change is due in part to a change in the Pennsylvania state code, allowing only sworn officers to refer to the title as school police.

School security officer Kevin Bethel gave an overview of the reform at the school board meeting, including saying that there will be training on interactions with adolescents, trauma enforced policing, mentoring skills, and de-escalation strategies. They will only carry handcuffs, no firearms and will be there to supervise the metal detectors

Bethel’s plans since coming into his position in November was to move away from arrests of kids and instead provide social services resources and mentoring. 

It is unclear if it is just a shift in names or if any real progress will be made from these actions taken for the Fall 2020 school year. 

The calls in Philadelphia are still not as drastic as some changes across the nation, which are much more than a name change. In Minneapolis, school officials are coming up with a new safety plan as the school district announced it terminated its contract with the police department at the beginning of June. Oakland School District in California also terminated its internal police department after a vote and is looking for an alternative safety plan.

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