Zero Tolerance Policies Put Students In The Hands Of Bad Cops

from the everyone's-'protected'-but-the-students dept

Over the past several years, there’s been a rise in the number of law enforcement officers taking up residence in public schools. This rise corresponds with the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies. Combined, these two factors have resulted in criminalization of acts that were once nothing more than violations of school policies, something usually handled by school administrators. As infractions have morphed into criminal acts, the severity of law enforcement “liaison” responses has also escalated.

Here’s a recent example of the severity of the response greatly outweighing the actual infraction.

The incident started when a Delaware State Police trooper, who was on assignment as a school resource officer in the Cape Henlopen School District, questioned the third-grader and a fifth-grader while investigating the theft of $1.

According to court papers, the questioning was so intense, complete with threats of the children being sent to a juvenile facility for lying, that the 8-year-old — who was not a suspect — burst into tears. His parents pulled him out of school because of the January 2008 incident and filed a lawsuit in January 2010 charging the officer violated the child’s rights.

The theft of a dollar shouldn’t have warranted much more than a visit to the principal’s office, if that. But, because of these policies, the school automatically turned it over to a state trooper, who then interrogated two children, presumably attempting to get the 8-year-old to testify against the fifth-grader. Unfortunately, incidents like these are far from rare.

– A water balloon fight towards the end of the school year results in seven students arrested.

– A high school student who changed another student’s last name to something inappropriate in the school yearbook is arrested and facing first degree property damage charges, a felony.

– A 14-year-old student is arrested on two charges of “disrupting the educational process” and one count of “obstructing an officer” after wearing an NRA shirt to class — something that did not violate the school dress code, which bans “depictions of violence” but not guns.

– In Mississippi, kids have been arrested (and incarcerated) for “dress code violations, flatulence, profanity and disrespect.”

– In Stockton, CA, a 5-year-old with ADHD had his hands and feet zip-tied by the on-duty officer while he waited for the parents to show up. The child was then charged with “battery on a police officer.”

– A cop who was not on duty at a Washington, DC school gave a 10-year-old student a concussion when he “grabbed the back of [the student’s] head and slammed his head forward into the table.” The student had been sent to the cafeteria for not participating in music class.

– A diabetic student who fell asleep in class claims the school police officer slammed her face into a filing cabinet before arresting her and taking her to jail.

There’s more. That’s just a sampling. This all builds up to the inevitable end result of cops vs. students, as detailed in this wrongful death suit.

Denys Lopez Moreno sued Officer Daniel Alvarado, Police Chief John Page and the Northside Independent School District in September 2011 for the death of her 14-year-old son, Derek Lopez.

The incident unfolded on Nov. 12, 2010, when Lopez allegedly exited a school bus and, in view of Alvarado, punched another student. Lopez ignored Alvarado’s order to freeze and fled the scene with the school officer tailing him in a patrol car, according to the amended complaint.

With Lopez hiding in a shed at a nearby home, Alvarado drove back to the scene of the fight but allegedly refused to give up the search.

“Ignoring his supervisor’s orders to ‘stay with the victim and get the information from him,’ Alvarado placed the second boy into the patrol car and sped into the neighborhood to search for Derek,” the complaint states. Local homeowners then directed Alvarado to the shed, Moreno claimed.

“In violation of NISD police department procedures, Alvarado drew his weapon immediately after exiting the patrol car,” the complaint states. “With his gun drawn, he rushed through the gate and into the back yard. Within seconds from arriving at the residence, Alvarado shot and killed the unarmed boy hiding in the shed.”

Officer Alvarado disobeyed direct orders and school policy in order to pursue an unarmed teen, ultimately ending his life. Alvarado claims he fired at the student because he felt the teen “was coming after him” when the door to the shed the student was hiding in was pushed open and hit him in the face.

But the teen wasn’t a threat at any moment up until that point, according to Officer Alvarado himself. Tracking down the teen to a shed in someone’s yard, he told the homeowner that the boy “posed no threat” to the homeowner. He also testified that if he thought the teen was a threat he would have called for backup.

Despite these assurances and his own belief that the teen posed no threat, he approached the shed with his weapon drawn. The unexpected swing of the door suddenly turned the unarmed teen into a threat, something Alvarado felt could only be mitigated by shooting.

The whole situation might be deemed “unfortunate” if it wasn’t for Alvarado’s disciplinary record, which calls into question why he was still employed by the police department, much less allowed to work in a school.

“In approximately a four (4) year period leading up to the shooting, defendant Alvarado had been reprimanded sixteen (16) times,” according to the complaint. “Specifically, he had been reprimanded for insubordination and failure to follow supervisors’ directives seven (7) times. Due to his poor service record, Alvarado was suspended without pay on five (5) occasions. On May 21, 2008, Alvarado was recommended for termination by Page. Despite being recommended for termination for insubordination and for refusal to follow supervisor directives, Alvarado remained on the force without remedial training.”

There’s the other problem with bringing police officers into schools. Law enforcement agencies have earned the reputation over the years for protecting their own and allowing “rogue” officers to go largely unpunished. Termination is rare and prosecution even more so. When you turn over low-grade disciplinary issues to law enforcement, you run the very real risk of handing a student over to a cop like Alvarado — someone who’s been slapped on the wrist multiple times and sent back into the general population.

On one hand, you have schools with zero-tolerance policies. On the other, you have law enforcement agencies with all the tolerance in the world. And in the middle, you have kids as young as five being zip tied and charged with battering an officer and unarmed teens being pursued and killed over fistfights.

School administrators are wilfully handing their students over to law enforcement members that aren’t even properly vetted by their own departments and then using “zero tolerance policies” to absolve themselves of the dismal results. There seems to be no real push to roll these policies back or for administrations to take charge of student discipline again, so odds are this will get a whole lot worse for students before it gets any better, much to the detriment of the next generation.

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Comments on “Zero Tolerance Policies Put Students In The Hands Of Bad Cops”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What every nation that does surveillance on its own people is becoming. It is a vicious feedback loop. You spy a little, you hear that people hate you. That drives you to spy more, which allows you to really hear how much people hate you. Which leads to paranoia and more spying. Meanwhile people are just venting as much as they used to, but now the politicians are afraid …

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What the UK is fast becoming

In many ways – yes – but, thankfully not in this one.

A British policeman would not have had a gun.

I call shenanigans on this guy
London cops: and

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A fucking monster. Should be noted that these incidents do not reflect upon the entire nation though. My alma mater district in Ohio had bigger fish to fry with the John Frye case…but that is a different story.

I will however note that the Cape Henlopen PD frequently invade upon Rehoboth Beach jurisdiction. This is truly egregious and the former Magistrate Judge Mike Defeuer must be rolling in his grave at such overreach.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Should be noted that these incidents do not reflect upon the entire nation though.

I’m not so sure. Just in my state, incidents like these have become common in every school district over the last several years. The teachers in my immediate family tell me that the same is true in every other state they know about.

I think these incidents may very well reflect on our entire nation.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you were to apply the laws that say what makes a private citizen into an accomplice to a crime or a criminal conspirator to police officers, very few police officers would end up anywhere except behind bars.

But prosecutors have a double standard, if you’re a cop who overhears someone bragging about committing crimes in the locker room, and you don’t tell anyone, you’re a good cop as long as you don’t join in the fun directly.

If you were to apply the RICO act to many police departments, the entire department would end up behind bars.

But words like racketeer-influenced corrupt organization, accomplice and conspiracy are only applied to the peasants. The nobles are exempt.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Conditioning the next generation into docile, subservient servants by using fear as a tool.

What they’re actually doing is conditioning the next generation to view cops and the law as threats that will destroy their lives arbitrarily.

The cops and schools are creating the very thing they fear: people who view the law with contempt and authorities as the enemy.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, but an awful lot of people will die in achieving that bright side.

I’m not a cop, but I would MUCH prefer to be Officer Friendly, who is warmly greeted everywhere he goes, is almost never shot at, and has citizens rushing to his aid when he is shot at…

…than be Officer Jackboot, who gets spat on every time he shows his face on the street, has to worry about snipers on every block, but has armor that will save his life 999 out of 1000 times he gets shot.

There are more than a thousand people with guns for every police officer, after all.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

What we need are zero tolerance policies enacted and enforced BY THE PEOPLE to safeguard our children from bullying and intimidation by overzealous teachers, principals and police.

Why not? It’s OUR country and those are OUR children. I say we put safeguards in place to prevent these incidents from happening again.

Anonymous Coward says:

School administrators are subservient to school boards, who are subservient to the local PTA. Picture every terrible mother who’s angel can do no wrong wanting to protect him/her. They think zero tolerance is a wonderful idea to keep their kid safe, since nothing they do would ever be a problem. These people control the votes because nobody else cares about school boards.

Worse yet, you have other officials who want to “protect the children” tying administrators’ and teachers’ hands even further with mandates of their own. And god help the principal or teacher who gets the school sued for anything. Zero tolerance allows liability shifting from the school to the police, something that perpetually cash strapped schools badly need.

Frankly, it’s going to take more than railing against administrators who have no control over these policies anyway to change anything. It doesn’t have anything to do with an overall sinister agenda.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Supposedly, a Principal gets paid more than the rank and file teachers because he or she has the authority to exercise judgment and at least a little common sense.

If Principals have been reduced in authority to the point a computer program could do their job with simple if-then-else coding, school districts could eliminate the position to cut costs and no one (aside from the Principals to have abdicated their responsibility) would notice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seems like students will learn, from an early age, what it’s like to live in a police state.

It should be interesting to see what future generations of young adults will be like. I wonder if they’ll remember all the police harassment they witnessed/experienced in school, and become more suspicious towards law enforcement as they grow up.

Jake says:

Re: Re:

It doesn’t make a difference how well armed individual citizens are, the state always outguns them. We start beating up cops, the cops start carrying sidearms. Start shooting at cops, they start driving around in armoured vehicles and carrying automatic rifles. Take out a police armoured vehicle with an IED, there’ll be tanks on the streets and drones or Apaches in the skies. If that doesn’t work? They’ll probably just write off the whole neighbourhood and break out the napalm.

Unless a large portion of the military and law-enforcement change sides and take their firepower with them, armed rebellion is a losing proposition.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is what constant and severe budget cuts do, as well as constant new rules and requirements on schools to get more state and federal money.

School: Our budget has been cut 35% yet we’ve got a larger student body then ever, what will we do?
Parents: You’re not raising our school taxes again!
School: Ok then, we’ll start entering stuff like zero tolerance programs, and outsource our school security to other agencies that constantly have their budgets cut to, like the police force.
Police Force: Oh we’ll help you, but you’re a low priority so we’ll just send our worst people to your schools to act as school security, since you know, we need competent people on the streets to deal with all the actual crime that happens during the school day.


Parents: My kids are doing worse then ever, and you’re suspending and expelling kids for stupid reasons like bringing a nail filer to school! And your cop guards beat up my teenager for not having a hall pass!
Police Force: Well, that’s their problem not ours.
School: Well that’s the cops and the federal governments problem not ours!
Parents: Screw you, we’re going to vote for someone who will cut your budget even farther, because obviously you guys are all overpaid morons!

Anonymous Coward says:

a) you have to now understand why the trial over Treyvon’s shooting is nothing but a farce, with the shooter killing the boy for no reason, then the court saying he was right to do so!! absolute disgrace!!
b)now you know why it is that NSA, DoJ, FBI etc etc officers are like they are. they start with the bullying tactics in minor positions that carry a lot of weight against the public, then graduate to being complete arse holes working in more senior roles for a ‘higher class of law enforcement’ that have far greater powers to actuate the demise of whomsoever they choose!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A) You need to start thinking for yourself and stop spurting out blindly what you hear on mainstream media. By “boy” I assume you mean 5″11 170lbs wanna-be drug dealer? And by “the court saying he has the right to”, I assume you mean the law?

What does that have to do with cops in schools?

2) “Bullying tactics” is the oldest trick in the book, but we didn’t hear you complain about it until the recent leaks. What changed? You just feel like bitching at them for no reason, don’t you?

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Lynch-mob mentality. The prosecution presented their case but didn’t have enough evidence to convict. End of story.

Why not do something about all the black-on-black violence going on in places like Chicago, you know, that gun-control utopia the liberals want for the rest of the nation to become like?

Tynam says:

Re: Re: Re:

OR: Trayvon Martin was in the act of desperately fighting in self-defence his life against a racist thug, and failed.

We’ll never know, Bergman, because we only have one guy’s testimony, and there’s almost no useful evidence.

What we know is this: an armed adult pursued and confronted an unarmed child, after being told not to. Neither had a previous record of violence. Violence ensued. The adult was non-critically injured when found. The child is now dead.

Regardless of what happened, there is no doubt in my mind Zimmerman was responsible – because he was the armed adult. It was his job to take responsibility for the incidence, including protecting the life of the child he was confronting. If he can’t do that, he had no business being armed to start with.

The disgrace is that people (including you) think it’s possible to draw meaningful policy conclusions from this no-evidence-available fuck-up.

LJW (profile) says:

Militarized Police Force

This is simply an extension of the Militarization of our police forces. They see themselves more as an army than public safety. Extending that power into schools is just a way to expand their power and to condition children to fear the police and expect to have their rights trampled on a regular basis.

It’s time for people to stop accepting BS like this. Nothing positive comes from it, and plenty of negative comes from it.

William Payne (profile) says:


Perhaps it is coincidence, but a lot of recent policy changes seem to have the effect of moving us towards authoritarianism.

It is worth bearing in mind that everything that us humans do, ultimately, is driven by our biology: our natural instincts and our natural drives.

We are pack animals. The pack has alpha males and beta males. The alpha males are driven to show their dominance of the beta males by reminding them of their subservient status as frequently, as forcefully and as intrusively as possible.

Authoritarianism is nothing more than the societal manifestation of that natural drive. Us beta males (the general population) are having our noses rubbed in the dirt by the alpha males (the authorities) so that they can feel good about their own superiority.

We are just reverting to type – stupid, prideful apes that we are.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Authoritarianism

I’m not an ape; I’m a human being.

The police instincts have nothing whatsoever to do with alpha vs beta males and everything to do with unchecked authority being given to them by the state. The (illusion of) power is seductive, gives them a sense of dominance, plus it doesn’t hurt that they’re being paid handsomely. Yet the only real difference between them and the citizenry is that they open-carry and their IA often help cover up misconduct.

Ray says:

Look behind the curtain

People need to apply some Newtonion physics to complete their logic. People like Obama are lightning rods. They take the heat so the invisible hand can work unhindered.

Politicians and cops are easily blackmailed since everybody is being spied upon. Who is this all for? It sure as hell isn’t for the people of the US. Our government has been hijacked. The US is the only country on earth that allows duel citizens to work in government or be elected to office.

They can’t and don’t serve two masters. They pit two masters against each other. Look at the religion and the history of the people behind the curtain. Therein you will find a modicum of understanding.

Sic Transit (profile) says:

Sheer lunacy

The whole situation might be deemed “unfortunate”

I’m having a slight brain cramp here.
Are you, the author, attempting to justify this *abject clusterfuck* of a situation by suggesting that the death of an _unarmed fucking child_ wouldn’t have been so bad had the School Cop presented a clean record?

Cos that comment just blew my friggin mind.

Nothing, NOTHING at all about this is in any way even vaguely justifiable. It is absolute insanity. The School Cop should be locked away for a minimum of 50 years on the grounds of inconceivable arseholery alone.

The US education system, much like the UK, is [though it would seem impossible] getting worse every year. The brain-farms putting out these policies should be forced to resign en-mass before the next big idea gets more people killed.

armed officers in schools. What the utter fuck kind of a planet are we living on.

Phil says:

In response to a few comments criticising the US for being totalitarian, I had a similar experience in my school in Australia.

Our ‘school policeman’, a constable, once picked up a rowdy student by the hair, from his seat, and bodily threw him to the ground for shouting at our teacher. This was over fifteen years ago, in a private school but it taught us all an important lesson, abject fear and resentment of the police.

There was also the matter that the policeman was banging our teacher at the time that came out a few years later. He was still our ‘school policeman’ when I graduated.

Nile says:

Think of the other children

Well, we’ve read a lot of comments about conditioning our children to fearful obedience of a cruel and arbitrary authority of violent paranoiacs.

And a few comments about some children learning hatred and contempt of authority, the police, the law, and society’s public aspirations of justice. Yeah, when everyone has something they can be punished for, it’s all a matter of luck; maybe with the dice loaded a little by the skills you can develop as a convincing and effective liar – and who would respect that? Any child with any strength of character they can’t beat out of him or her will leave the school with an abiding contempt for all authority.

But that isn’t the worst of the evils that arise in the schools of a police state.

What about the *other* children, the ones who learn, by example , just how fun it is to have that much power to terrorise – arbitrary punishment of the utmost severity, absolute rules, capricious and selective enforcement, the secret pleasure of malice in anonymous denunciations – these children exist, and very few schools have ever addressed the damage that bullying can do and actually *educated* such children back onto the path of morality and humanity.

What lessons are those other children learning, subject to in an official policy of zero tolerance – of absolute power, unquestionable right by force, and order by arbitrary oppression? This isn’t something they are being told in class, reading, or seeing in the teacher’s multimedia material, it is something that they are immersed in throughout childhood and adolescence.

What kind of manager or company owner will they be? What kind of Mayor, what kind of Sherriff, what kind of DA? What kind of cop or TSA screener?

I’m all for children being educated to find fulfilment in the world of work but you might want to think about people who aren’t like you at at all.

ipgrunt (profile) says:

Mixed message

Zero tolerance in schools sends a mixed message to students. They are taught to not defend themselves, even under the influence of a bully. Boys are prosecuted for pushing back, even after the first punch was thrown by an aggressor. I have no idea what would happen to a girl who was trying to ward off sexual aggression from a male student? Probably she too, would be cited for violent action in the defense of her person. The system, a knee-jerk response to Columbine here in Colorado, does not work, for administrators, teachers, parents, or students. (The district lawyers think it’s neat. So does the local chief of police.) Who are we serving with this kind of hypocrisy?
Once upon a time, children, we had a common sense concept called “self-defense.” It worked pretty well. Let’s bring it back!

duncan moore says:

public humiliation and invasion of privacy

OK so I was a student at 49th street and every single one of my teachers knew that I was incontinent so one day I arrived late during transition period and the teachers opened my backpack and dumped its contents all over the fucking floor, and the reason they gave me was that somebody brought something they shouldn’t have to school. After a week of putting up with students saying has baby wet his pants yet I finally asked first the teachers if they would do something and being told they wouldn’t do any thing I went to the vice principal and then the principal and finaly I just started beating anyone’s asses that even tried to make me feel uncomfortable about my padding I left that school before I could get expelled and sent to juvy

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