New Report: Policing Chicago Public Schools

by Mariame Kaba

“Our schools have become almost like satellite police stations.” – Steve Drizin (1)

Project NIA is pleased to announce the release of a new report titled “Policing Chicago Public Schools: A Gateway to the School-to-Pipeline.” The report relies on data from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to show (for the first time in seven years) the type of offenses and the demographics (gender, age and race) of the juveniles arrested on Chicago Public Schools properties in calendar year 2010. We were limited because CPD reports data by police district rather than by individual school.

In the 2003-2004 academic year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had about 1,700 security staff, nearly tripling in number in five years (2). We were unable to obtain the current number of security guards in CPS despite repeated requests. We are sure that this number exceeds the 1,700 from the 2003-2004 academic year. The presence of so many security staff and especially police officers in schools means that school discipline issues quickly turn into police records.

In our discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline, we need concrete examples of how the process works. As such, it is important to understand the role that police and security staff play in our schools. Yet reports about police involvement in CPS have unfortunately not been readily available to the public. There is no easily accessible citywide or statewide data that illustrate how many students are arrested in schools each year. The last report that was written about the role of police in Chicago Public Schools was published in 2005 by the Advancement Project. That report, “Education on Lockdown,” found that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) referred over 8,000 students to law enforcement in 2003. Forty percent of these referrals were for simple assault or battery with no serious injuries. Most of these cases were dismissed (3).

Our purpose in writing this report was to ensure that the public is informed about the scope and extent of policing in Chicago Public Schools. We hope that this will galvanize educators, parents, students, policymakers and community members to advocate for a dramatic decrease of CPS’s reliance on law enforcement to address school discipline issues. Instead, we would like to see an increase in the use of restorative justice, which is an effective approach, to respond to student misbehavior in our schools.

In light of a push for budget austerity, limited resources should be re-directed away from policing and into affirming programs and opportunities for students. This, we believe, will improve the overall well-being of all stakeholders in the educational system (most especially students). We also call on our city council to improve data transparency by passing an ordinance requiring CPS and CPD to report quarterly on the numbers of students arrested in the district. Having timely and reliable information will support efforts to hold CPS and CPD accountable. Finally, we believe that student privacy should be protected rather than further eroded. Current reporting practices between schools and law enforcement do not need to be reformed to increase the exchange of student information between these parties.

The key data points in the report are that:

  1. Too many young people are still being arrested on CPS properties. Over 5,500 arrests of young people under 18 years old took place on CPS properties in 2010. If we include those between 18 and 20 years old, the number increases to over 6,100 arrests.
  2. Black youth are disproportionately targeted by these arrests. While they represent 45% of CPS students, black youth account for 74% percent of juvenile school-based arrests. This mirrors the general trend of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile legal system. For example, while they comprise only 34% of youth ages 5 to 17 in the city of Chicago, African American youth accounted for 76% of citywide juvenile arrests (youth 17 and under) in 2010.
  3. Young men are much more likely to be arrested on CPS properties than are their female counterparts [73% vs. 27%].
  4. Male youth under 21 years old are most often arrested on CPS property for simple battery followed by drug abuse violations and disorderly conduct. Females under 21 are most often arrested for simple battery, disorderly conduct and miscellaneous non-index offenses. Nearly a third (27%) of school-based arrest offenses on CPS property are simple battery. This suggests that a significant number of CPS students are probably being arrested for fighting.
  5. Certain police districts are more likely to arrest youth in schools than others. In particular, the highest aggregate (4) numbers of juvenile school-based arrests are in the 4th, 6th, 8th, 22nd, and 5th police districts. Together these five districts account for 39% of total juvenile school-based arrests on CPS properties.

1. Quote by Steve Drizin, director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University
2. Advancement Project, Education on Lockdown: The schoolhouse to jailhouse track. (Washington, DC:
Advancement Project, 2005).
3. Ibid
4. We wish that we could compare arrest rates per district but we cannot access total numbers of youth in each district in order to do those calculations. Arrest rates would tell us more about whether certain districts are disproportionately targeting youth for school-based arrests.

Mariame Kaba is the founding director of Project NIA. She is an educator, organizer, and writer who lives in Chicago. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex and supporting youth leadership development. Mariame was a program officer for education and youth development at the Steans Family Foundation from 2004-2009. She has also been a consultant helping organizations to develop their evaluation capacity. Mariame is a published author, curriculum developer, and has served on numerous nonprofit boards.