Editorial: No armed guards in Iowa City Schools


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

The Iowa City City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday evening to approve a request from the Iowa City police to apply for federal funding to install armed Student Resource Officers in the city’s two public high schools. 

This issue had previously been discussed last week during a meeting of the Iowa City School District Governance Committee, during which the committee expressed interest in partnering with the police to increase school safety. Board member Sarah Swisher told The Daily Iowan that board members’ intention in exploring the partnership was to “highlight the safety procedures we’ve taken, given the recent increase in violence in schools.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, installing armed guards in schools has become a popular proposition in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in January, 74 percent of Americans believe that armed guards would reduce the incidence of mass violence in schools. Despite widespread support for the plan, we do not believe that Iowa City’s schools would benefit from armed guards.

In terms of student safety, there is no evidence that these resource officers do much to prevent violence. According to a 2009 study titled “School Crime Control and Prevention,” led by Philip J. Cook of Duke University, there is not sufficient data on the subject to definitively measure the potential effect of armed guards on student safety.

The evidence for increased safety is hazy, but the police suggest that installing armed guards could help in another way: by improving the relationship between Iowa City youths and the police. “For the Police Department to get involved in positive relationship building, the program is where I see us being able to do that,” Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine told The Daily Iowan. “We may never have a catastrophe that makes front pages nationwide, but we do have a lot of other issues.”

The idea of relationship building with students is nice, but installing armed guards in schools may be counterproductive. Research on the subject suggests that School Resource Officers actually make students feel less safe in school. A 2011 study published in the journal Youth & Society on the subject of school safety measures and their effects on students of different ethnic backgrounds found that armed security guards increased feelings of fear in school, particularly in white students.

Other safety measures, like security cameras and locked doors, did not increase fear in students. City Councilor Jim Throgmorton, the lone vote against this decision, was also skeptical of the Police Department’s ability to build relationships with armed guards.

“I support the idea of improving connections between police officers and the community, but I’m not persuaded having armed officers is the best way to do that,” he told the DI. “We need to be confident any officers [in schools] act to protect and serve, not control and monitor.” It is unclear whether Student Resource Officers in Iowa City’s schools would have a positive effect on student safety or the relationship between students and the police. It is correspondingly unclear exactly what value they would add to Iowa City’s schools.

Though we question the value of Student Resource Officers, we do not buy into the arguments offered by some opponents of armed guards who suggest that their presence would make students somehow less safe or more prone to being arrested. The Editorial Board believes that while there are some circumstances that justify ceding some freedom and peace of mind for the sake of security, this is not one of them. Iowa City officials should not introduce armed guards for the sake of safety that may not materialize.

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.