The Clark County School District has a new plan to reduce crime: Stop arresting students who commit crimes.
Last week, the district launched the Clark County School Justice Partnership with the goal of ending the supposed school-to-prison pipeline. It’d be more accurate to call it a crime-to-prison pipeline.
As part of this program, district officials want administrators to stop arrests and citations — entirely — for some minor crimes. That list includes disturbing the peace, resisting a public officer, petty larceny and damage to school property. Instead, police will use a multi-step checklist before making an arrest. Steps included talking with parents and brainstorming alternatives with the school’s principal. The district’s goal is to reduce arrests or police citations by 20 percent.
It’s understandable that the district doesn’t want to criminalize every instance of student misbehavior. But while keeping a student who punches a police officer out of court may improve his chances of graduating, it would also allow him to one day legally purchase a firearm, which can have deadly results.
That’s not idle speculation, either. It’s what happened at Stoneman Douglas High School. In February, a former student killed 17 people at the Florida high school with a legally purchased weapon. The killer had committed a multitude of crimes at school, including assault. The school didn’t report the crimes to police, however, because it had adopted policies to end the “school-to-prison pipeline.” That decision kept the shooter’s crimes from showing up on a background check, which allowed him to purchase the murder weapon legally.
Let’s hope nothing that tragic happens at a Nevada school. Allowing disruptive delinquents to remain among the student body will likely increase the overall number of crimes at schools. It’s already happened. Five years ago — in an effort to eliminate perceived racial disparities in school disciplinary procedures — the district, under pressure from the Obama White House, told administrators to reduce the number of expulsions. They did. Expulsions are down 69 percent, and violence to students is up around 50 percent.
This isn’t to dismiss the need for second chances and the benefits of resolving incidents at the lowest level. These are worthy objectives. The district should have a strict discipline policy and give its staff the ability to use judgment about who would and wouldn’t benefit from leniency. Students respond to incentives, and when policy is this weak, they’ll exploit it. A successful discipline policy will focus on reducing the amount of illegal activity, not artificially reducing the number of arrests.
As a well-known aphorism makes clear, however, good intentions aren’t enough. No doubt those involved with this new plan mean well, but the harm this program could do to law-abiding students is entirely predictable.