A group of students from schools in the Phoenix Union High School District are calling for an end to having police officers on high school campuses.
The students said on Thursday that the presence of school resource officers on their campuses doesn’t increase student safety, but instead sends an intimidating message that students could be jailed or deported.
The group of about 15 students launched a campaign with the hashtag #CopsOuttaCampus.
Puente Arizona, a immigrants-rights organization based in Phoenix, coordinated Thursday’s event, which was held outside the district offices.
Leidy Robledo, a community organizer with Puente, said the campaign’s mission is to “end the school-to-prison pipeline and school-to-deportation pipeline.”
Demanding a change
The students demanded district officials remove police officers from all of its campuses.
According to the city of Phoenix website, school resource officers, or SROs, are required to be “present and accessible on their assigned school campus” and also must spend 80 percent of their time on their assigned campus.
SROs are given a performance goal and are expected to meet with Police Neighborhood Enforcement Teams in their assigned area to “discuss current issues and trends associated with neighborhood enforcement.”
The students said that the money spent to have officers on campus could be better used.
“What we want is for the school to invest some of that money to resources where students can get help and get to the root causes of some of the problems we’re seeing in schools as opposed to just sending them, getting them locked up, and then in many cases oftentimes ending up in detention centers or event deportation centers,” Robledo said.
Students supporting the campaign planned to address the PUHSD Governing Board at its Thursday night meeting to express their concerns and request that school resource officers be removed from all of the district’s 17 high school campuses.
A statement from the district said:
“No decisions on our SRO program will be made this evening at our Board meeting. We continue to work closely with our internal and external stakeholders to assess this and other important programs to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students, staff, and community.”
Robledo also cited President Donald Trump’s stances on immigration reform as a concern for students when it comes to having police officers on campus.
“Our young people are at risk of being stopped and being asked for documents at any moment by police officers,” Robledo said.
The Phoenix Police Department declined to comment specifically on the campaign but referred The Republic to a previous statement on immigration from Police Chief Jeri Williams which reads:
“The Phoenix Police Department respects the dignity of all persons and recognizes the sanctity of human life, rights and liberty. We are committed to protecting and serving every member of our diverse community and ensuring that crime victims and witnesses feel comfortable and confident when reporting crimes to our officers. As your chief, I commit to you that racial profiling will not be tolerated. We will continue to ensure everyone’s safety by continuing our crime suppression efforts and focusing on crimes that most affect our local community. As always, we will be guided by state law which dictates our responsibilities when dealing with arrested people.”
‘School policies weren’t made for us’
Central High School student Michelle Ruiz, who spoke at the event, said posting police officers on campus doesn’t increase safety, but does intimidate students.
“Safety to me is walking into my campus, not being watched by a police officer waiting for me to make a mistake,” Ruiz said. “School policies weren’t made for us, the policies were made to get us in trouble for everything.”
Ruiz said certain school policies show that officers on campus don’t respect students.
“In the moment, we walk in our schools having to show our IDs,” Ruiz said. “We are not treated with respect. There is an assumption that we are bad students from bad ‘hoods.”
Ruiz said district funds could be used for counseling services that address the underlying problems students may have that can lead to trouble.
“Our schools need to build better school systems where we are being prepared for success instead of being prepared for prison,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz said she worries that having police officers on campus increases the possibility of students’ immigration status being questioned at school.
“Our school hasn’t announced that we’re a sanctuary school or anything, so unless they announce it and telling us that they will absolutely not question us, then I would be more safer but they’re not doing that (sic),” Ruiz said.
North High School student Rosaly Hernandez, who also spoke at the event, said funds for school resource officers could be better used for buying updated textbooks or improving and expanding the availability of technology on campus.
“The money spent on SROs could be better spent on resources for students because a police officer is definitely not going to help me better myself as a person and it’s not going to help me in my education,” Hernandez said.
Ruiz said the campaign’s goal is to have SROs removed from campuses by the start of next school year.
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