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School cops speak out at training: What about ‘kids out there that hate police’?

Nearly 50 CPD officers attended their first training Monday on how to work in Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago police officers assigned to work in schools attend a week-long training session Monday at the Police Department’s training facility at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. to learn strategies to improve their interactions with students.
Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

As a group of 47 Chicago police officers assigned to the city’s schools attended a long-overdue training session Monday, one officer candidly talked about the struggles they faced.

“What about the kids who are coming to school after getting out of jail?” he asked. What about “kids out there that hate the police just because they hate the police”?

Those students, he said, seek out confrontations with officers. If a student crosses the line, “I’m going to police their ass,” the officer said.

The comments came as officers from Los Angeles and Baltimore, instructors with the National Association of School Resource Officers, embarked on the second week of training after the cops’ role in Chicago Public Schools have been highly criticized. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has threatened to pull them from schools altogether.

The group attending the session Monday was largely comprised of experienced officers — most having more than two decades on the force and many having worked in schools for more than a decade.

The officers said although they were parents, they had never received specific training in working with students before. They said they have to walk a thin line between being a cop and a social worker.

“You have the kids that are homeless, the kids that are hungry, the kids that have mental problems — that are diagnosed and undiagnosed,” Katherine Hughes, an officer at Corliss High School, said of outside issues CPS students face that can lead to interactions with police.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of Student Resource Officers, talks to Chicago police officers during a training session Monday.
Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Officers complained they lacked a clearly defined role in their school and had been called to incidents by school administrators that violate the district’s own policies, which state that an officer should only be called “in the event of criminal activity or an emergency.”

The last legal agreement between the school district and police department expired in 2017, and Chicago police do not currently have any policy directives covering the role of school officers.

“I’m excited about the training, and I would like to see some clear-cut guidelines,” Hughes said.

The effect of that lack of training and guidance was highlighted earlier this year when a 16-year-old student was pulled down a flight of stairs and shocked with a stun gun at Marshall High School by two officers who became involved in a student disciplinary matter.

James Ream, a NASRO instructor and sergeant with the Los Angeles School Police Department, said that the training would not specifically address the incident at Marshall, but said the course would cover de-escalation techniques using real-world examples, including footage of an officer flipping a student off a chair at a South Carolina school in 2015.

Sgt. John Knezevich, a CPD supervisor who recently took over a team of school officers, said he believes the lack of training has contributed to problems between students and cops.

“I’ve had situations where ... officers from the beat would arrive at these schools and the interactions would be confrontational from the get-go,” Knezevich said. “I do believe it’s a special type of officer who should be in the schools and the training is definitely a major part of that.”

“This SRO job is not for the weak,” Don Bridges, a NASRO trainer and a police officer with Baltimore County Public Schools, told the trainees. “It’s for the best and the brightest.”

The training, which the officers will complete over 40 hours of this week, encourages officers to be visible in schools and to interact with students outside of their role as cops, including participating in school activities, such as coaching. Being seen as more than just someone who makes arrests is critical to their success de-escalating situations later on, Bridges said.

Several officers said they felt that CPS employees should be receiving training as well.

A spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools said two CPS safety managers attended last week’s training session and that the district planned to hold additional training sessions in the future for staff.

Community groups opposed to the use of school resource officers have called for CPS to instead spend their policing budget on hiring more nurses and counselors.