Petition fights to keep officers assigned to over 55 Boston schools

BOSTON — A nationwide movement to reform police policies is igniting a debate about the presence of officers inside schools.

Boston is unlike many other districts because it has its own police force, which is separate from the Boston Police Department.

There are 73 school police officers assigned to over 55 schools.

Some local leaders and community activists are now calling for those officers to be removed from the city’s schools.

“For poor children and children of color, often their first encounter with the criminal justice system is at school and can lead to permanent entanglement with detention and prison systems,” said Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell.

There are also strong voices calling for those school officers to remain where they are. That incudes a Boston woman who started a petition that has 5,000 signatures and counting.

“I am an African American woman, [I can tell you] not all law enforcement is bad,” said Celestina Harewood, who started the petition.

Celestina Harewood said she believes the school officers assigned to dozens of Boston Public Schools are a vital component of the educational experience.

“Some of them are mentors,” said Harewood. “Some of them coach students. Some of them tutor students. They actually inspire students. They give them that aura, that you guys can come to me. I’m not just here to slap a cuff on your wrist.”

Boston city councilors are asking for a review of the use of school officers in Boston Public Schools. Some are suggesting new methods of connecting with students moving forward.

“Boston Public Schools currently employs over 70 school resource officers that are deputized to serve as police officers, when instead these roles should be repurposed to increase the number of counselors, social workers, and nurses to ensure all students have adequate social-emotional supports,” said Campbell. “Safer schools requires creating a sense of community where everyone is valued and feels a sense of belonging.”

The Boston Police Department has its own unit of 13 school officers, which is separate from school police force.

Those 13 officers are only called in when necessary to conduct criminal investigations.

Campbell said she is not advocating for the elimination of that unit.