Omaha Benson: smallest enrollment, most students ticketed
July 23rd, 2015
Data accumulated by Foundation Strategy Group a consultant contracted by the Douglas County board shows in 2013, more than 500 OPS students were ticketed by Omaha police officers for various crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to drug possession. While Governor Pete Ricketts and lawmakers discuss prison reform, some are asking if more education could keep students from turning into criminals?
Omaha, NE – According to the report, the majority of students ticketed were sophomores, and most of the crimes they were cited for occurred on school grounds.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/final2.mp3]
A further breakdown of the data shows students from Omaha Benson and Omaha South were ticketed the most.
South has the second highest student population in the district, a little more than 2,272 and the second highest number of students ticketed, 94.
But Omaha Benson stands out. It has the fewest number of students of any high school in the district, about 1,143, but the highest number of student citations, 104.
Community activist Robert Wagner said too many School Resource Officers, or SRO’s, could be to blame for the high numbers of student citations. SROs are police officers assigned to school campuses. Wagner said kids sometimes don’t understand the severity of their own actions, and may not appreciate what it means to be an officer of the law.
“A lot of these kids may see SROs as a security guard. No – he is not. He is a law enforcement officer that can cite you and arrest you, at any time.”
Wagner said sometimes a student might also be carrying around some emotional baggage from home into the classroom, which in turn could lead to acting out.
“The answer isn’t always a ticket, it’s not always having law enforcement intervene. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”
Captain Michael Murphy is a retired captain with the Omaha Police Department, and is currently a part-time SRO at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He knows what it’s like to be an SRO in a high school. He said being an SRO is about more than just handing out tickets.
“Basically they have three main roles, law enforcer, educator and mentor,” Murphy said.
Murphy said SROs have the ability to investigate crimes, issue citations or make arrests if warranted.
“People feel safe knowing there is an SRO on campus. I think it is certainly deterrence. “
According to Murphy, SROs are trained to use preventative measures first, like talking through a situation with students before resorting to more physical measures. He said it’s easy to see the benefit of SROs to students.
“I think just looking at the hard data, you’re not sending police cruisers that work the districts to the schools on a continual basis to investigate crimes and handle disturbance calls there.”
OPS School board member Marque Snow said while some SRO’s may think of themselves as educators too, they’re police officers first. But he adds that isn’t always clearly communicated in schools. He said the disconnect can lead to students receiving punishments they don’t quite understand.
“I’m a kid in school and the principal sends an SRO to get me out of class because I didn’t want to leave. The SRO comes in there and said ‘get up’, I say ‘no,’ they grab me, I flinch what happens? The SRO takes me down and then I’m charged.”
Snow said just as important as it is for students to respect law enforcement, officers should understand they are dealing with minors.
“If you have somebody that is going to go into a school they have to understand they are dealing with kids. If you send a full-fledged cop into a school that doesn’t comprehend they are dealing with kids, they deal with them as they are full grown adults.”
But Snow said the problems at Benson– where nearly 1-in-10 students received tickets in 2013—aren’t just a matter of SRO’s in schools. Nor is it a matter of race. He said there is a conflict with how the SRO and the principal at Benson see who is in control when the SRO comes onto the scene. Omaha North has a similar demographic to Benson, but not nearly the same number of student citations.
Snow said among other factors, the administration at Benson High School may be at least partly to blame.
“But you see these certain pockets of our community so that tells you either kids are being treated differently there or there is different leadership there that is not transparent across the board and we need to fix it.”
Snow said part of the solution is straightforward.
“It’s simple; a lot of this stuff we can handle within our schools, but the downfall is we have to reallocate resources to these schools, like Benson, so they can help deal with these issues.”
OPS declined to give an interview for this story, but in an emailed statement, Todd Andrews, Director of District Communications, said while the district is grateful to have this data; it lacks specificity and clarity in some instances, which leads to questions.
Andrews said district administrators are working to address the high number of Benson students being ticketed, and have been for the last year. Andrews also said the district will continue to collaborate with schools, SRO’s, and security personnel to address matters of discipline.
Marque Snow other improvements would be increased visibility of staff members and clearly communicating to students their expectations in the student’s code of conduct. This, he said, would be similar to what college campuses have with freshman orientation. Otherwise he said the school board may need to take a more active role in the process.
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