Chicago Public Schools Proposes Progressive Reforms to School Resource Officer (SRO) Program Based on Feedback

Proposed Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) will Include New SRO Eligibility and Selection Criteria and Restrict SRO Access to any CPD Criminal Enterprise Data; New Data Shows an 80 Percent Reduction in Students Arrested at School Between SY12 and SY19 Following Progressive Reforms Throughout the Years; New Partnerships Will Support District’s Focus on Creating a Holistic Approach to School Safety and Analyze Impact of SROs in Schools

CHICAGO – The City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) today announced several proposed reforms to the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, which will build on recent measures to help ensure SROs contribute to safe and welcoming school environments in the schools that choose to utilize police support. In addition to these reforms, which will be proposed in a revised intergovernmental agreement (IGA) that the Chicago Board of Education will consider on August 26, CPS also announced today a series of partnerships designed to improve training, analysis, and student involvement going forward. As of August 18, 55 schools have chosen to participate in the SRO program in 2020-21 with 17 opting to leave the program this year.

“These reforms to our SRO program have allowed those that have the pulse of their communities, Local School Councils, to pursue a safe school environment without the use of SROs and strengthened the program for LSCs who will continue to use it,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “LSCs share our commitment to listening to the communities they serve and acting in their best interests. I applaud them for stepping up to generate the change they want to see and look forward to working with them as we continue to create an optimal school environment.”

“These critical reforms to the SRO program will strengthen training, codify best practices, and improve the SRO selection process to build positive school environments through a truly holistic and multi-faceted approach to school safety across the district,” said CPS CEO Dr. Janice K. Jackson. “The voices of our students and school communities have been instrumental throughout this process and we look forward to continued engagement and key partnerships that will help us train staff, evaluate the impact of SROs, and elevate the role of youth voice.”

Significant Decreases in Arrests of Student Arrests on School Property
The district today also provided new data that show an 80 percent reduction in the number of students arrested on school property from SY12 (3,320) through SY19 (651), which is the most recent full year of in-person instruction. While the district will not be satisfied until the number of arrests is lower, the district is encouraged by the impact of progressive reforms, including a transition away from a zero tolerance policy, increased focus on social and emotional learning and greater support for the district’s most vulnerable youth.

While racial disparities persist, the district’s three largest racial groups (African American, Latinx, and white) have all seen more than a 75 percent reduction in the number of student arrests on CPS property between SY12 and SY19. These trends are maintained even when accounting for enrollment reductions over the years.

Reduction in School-Based Student Arrests from SY12 – SY19 by Race:

  • African American: 78 percent reduction (2,433 to 526 ; from 1.45 per 100 students to 0.40)
  • Latinx: 86 percent reduction (757 to 107 ; from 0.42  per 100 students to 0.06)
  • White: 85 percent reduction (109 to 16; from 0.31 per 100 students to 0.04)

The district is committed to equity and will not be satisfied until the number of student arrests is lowered, especially among African American students who make up a disproportionate number of arrests. 

Critical Improvements to the IGA
Last year, the district entered into an IGA with the City of Chicago that introduced critical provisions to provide principals greater autonomy in determining which SROs served in their schools, outline required training, institute new training to support special student populations and de-escalation techniques, and create an eligibility pool and selection criteria. This year, the district is building upon last year’s agreement and proposing several new initiatives to strengthen the district’s efforts to improve the SRO program:

New Eligibility and Selection Criteria for SROs: 
All new candidates and current SROs will only be eligible to serve as an SRO if they have an excellent discipline record, which includes the following:

  • No sustained allegations within the past five years involving excessive use of force;
  • No sustained Complaint Register (“CR”) allegations within the past five years where the sustained finding directly relates to a verbal or physical interaction with youth; and
  • No open CRs for which a reasonable probability exists that the officer may receive discipline for excessive force, verbal or physical interaction with youth.

Additionally, the Chief of Bureau Operations for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) will interview all candidates, verify eligibility and provide a written attestation that all candidates have been vetted to meet the criteria. Consistent with last year’s IGA, principals will still have the opportunity to interview candidates if they wish to change their assigned SROs.

Prohibiting Use of The Criminal Enterprise Information System: The proposed IGA will formally prohibit SROs from entering any information into the CPD Criminal Enterprise Information System, which will replace previous databases that were designed to store information around gang affiliation. In addition, all CPD terminals will be removed from schools so that SROs will no longer be able to access this information. The district believes this is a critical step in further strengthening trust between SROs and the schools they serve, which is central to a successful SRO program.

Compliance Monitoring: The district will be strengthening compliance monitoring practices by meeting with CPD every two weeks, and meeting with the independent monitor every month, to review key performance indicators for all parties. The district will provide a report to the Board of Education on those key performance indicators every quarter.

Strengthening and Streamlining the Complaint Process: This year, the district will be strengthening its complaint process by explicitly directing that all complaints go to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), who will ensure any complaints are tracked, reviewed and resolved in a timely manner. While this has been executed in practice, it will now be codified in the IGA, with the expectation of regular reporting and sharing broadly through various channels to ensure that members of school communities are aware.

Additional Critical Measures: The district is also continuing to strengthen existing measures implemented last year, including training requirements for specific student populations, such as LGBTQIA; implicit bias training; strengthening program monitoring efforts; and codifying that SROs must follow the welcoming city and welcoming school ordinances.

New Partnerships to Help Strengthen the District’s Holistic Approach to School Safety
The SRO program represents one of many ways the district has worked to create safe and supportive school environments and enact policies that work to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to improvements to the IGA, the district is establishing a number of partnerships to help the district create a truly holistic approach to school safety.

Beginning this year, the district is formalizing partnerships with the following organizations:

  • The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago: As part of a “whole school” safety approach, the district and Chicago Police Department have engaged the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital (CCR) to train school behavioral health teams – which typically consist of social workers, counselors, administrators, teacher representatives and other school staff such as security officers and nurses – along with resource officers in schools that have them.  Training will include fundamentals about the impact of exposure to trauma and violence on children, as well as specific practices and strategies for de-escalation and linking students to needed supports in schools and communities. Training SROs side-by-side with behavioral health teams will foster a holistic “whole school” safety approach through a trauma-informed lens that will build coordination and collaboration, and support district priorities of building a healing-centered school climate and culture throughout the district. In addition, this collaboration will continue to prioritize engagement of multiple stakeholders, including subject-matter experts, youth leaders, parents, community members and educators, as we work together to build a model for promotion of mental health, equity and safety in all schools.
  • University of Chicago Educational Labs: To gain a deeper understanding of the SRO program, the district has asked the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs to provide technical assistance to analyze the extent to which disparities in school-based arrests exist among various student populations, to include factors such as race and disabilities. The analysis will review incidents of school-based arrests within the district and disaggregate the data by year, school, whether or not a school had an SRO present, and student demographics (to the extent possible without compromising student privacy). The district hopes this analysis can be used to better understand patterns of arrests in relation to the SRO program and in the larger context of arrests among young people in Chicago and, ultimately, to help inform strategies to reduce justice system contact among our city’s young people.
  • Mikva Challenge: The district is working with the Mikva Challenge Youth Safety Advisory Council to develop a training and measurement system that is designed to ensure student voice helps shape the effectiveness of the SRO program. Members of the Youth Safety Advisory Council have proposed that if SROs are to remain in schools, then it is extremely important that youth voice is incorporated into the training. In partnership with youth stakeholders, this training program will work to maintain and develop localized youth involvement, as well as develop positive relationships among SROs and students. In addition, the district will work with the Youth Safety Advisory Council, Mikva’s other Citywide Youth Councils and other youth organizations to build a monitoring system that includes tactics such as focus groups, surveys and other ways to capture student feedback to measure the training program’s effectiveness.

Working with Schools who Opted to Remove SROs
CPS remains committed to ensuring the safety and health of all of our students, especially at schools whose Local School Councils voted to discontinue the SRO program. The district will provide targeted assistance to those schools and will develop individual alternative safety plans prior to the start of the school year. All of the new plans will consider factors including the roles SROs played to ensure these functions are now handled through other existing resources or protocols. These school safety plans will be developed in collaboration with schools, emergency response agencies, parents and the community. In addition, a school’s safety plan takes an all-hazards approach that will include prevention, response and recovery for any emergency.

Reduction in Funding for SROs and Elimination of Mobile Officer Units
As previously announced, CPS and the City of Chicago have proposed a significant reduction in SRO funding for the 2020-21 school year. Compared to the FY20 budget in which $33 million was budgeted for SRO support, the district now anticipates spending no more than approximately $12 million on SRO-related expenses in FY21. The district will not be charged for days when in-person instruction is not occurring in the upcoming school year and will receive a credit for remote school days from SY2019-20. Additionally, the district will no longer pay for mobile patrol officers, who have been utilized to support schools and provide broader neighborhood safety support.  Estimated costs in FY21 have fallen from the $15 million assumed in the FY21 budget to $12 million due to schools that have voted to opt out of the SRO program. Any spending that falls below budgeted levels will be used to support the hundreds of millions of dollars in additional school supports that have been proposed in FY21.

Chicago Public Schools serves 355,000 students in 638 schools. It is the nation’s third-largest school district.