School Police Officers Need Better Training To Deal With Students; Incident Reports Should Be Required

Contact: Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director, ACLU of Texas (512) 478-7300 x 106 or 923-1909;

Austin – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas today testified before two state legislative committees in support of bills that would regulate use of force by School Resource Officers (SROs) in public schools.

HB 2158 would ban Tasers in elementary and junior high schools. Tasers are currently banned in Houston and Dallas independent school districts, and by the Texas Youth Commission. The hearing was conducted by the House Public Education Committee.

HB 348 would require training for school resource officers, or SROs. Today, of the hundreds of school law enforcement officers in Texas, almost none receive training in childhood development, mediation, or how to interact with students in the school situations. The hearing was conducted by the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

The debate comes on the heels of an ACLU of Texas report – Use of Force in Texas Public Schools: The Case for Transparency, Accountability, and Decriminalization – that lays out the need for such legislation.

Background on SROs

Today, more than 170 Texas school districts have their own police department. Nationwide, there are nearly twice as many school safety employees as there are counselors in public schools. Almost none are trained to interact with children or work in schools. Rather, they’re taught to apprehend criminals on the street.

The Case Against Tasers

Currently, there is no law requiring schools to track uses of force or report data. Many school districts do not keep any record of physical violence, arrests, or tickets. What we do know, however, is that in recent years, several adults have died after being Tased by police officers.

The weapon is dangerous enough that some law enforcement agencies now refuse to do Taser demonstration exercises on each other. “The effects of Tasing children are not known, and likely very dangerous,” said Frank Knaack, ACLU of Texas Policy Advisor. He noted the state’s two largest districts, Houston and Dallas, have banned Tasers.

Troubling Facts from the Report

Public information requests were sent to Austin, Cushing, Dallas, Edinburg, El Paso, Houston, Killeen, Northside, and Tyler school districts over the past year to gather information for the report.

What we found:

  1. Districts are not required to document how, when, or why force was used on children. Some districts refused to produce their use of force policy.

  2. Every district told us SROs can use pepper spray on students in certain circumstances; even inside the schools where toxic fumes can waft through the ventilation system and hurt other students.

  3. In Houston, African-Americans make up 26.5 percent of the student population, but were involved in 56 percent of use of force incidents last school year.

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