Potentially sweeping school police reforms are taking hold in Virginia, a state that was the focus of an investigation last April by the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
The investigation found, based on an analysis of data, that Virginia ranked first among states in the rate at which schools refer students to law enforcement agencies in connection with a variety of indiscretions. The Virginia rate was about three times the national rate.
Reaction to the story — including a state government initiative to reduce student arrests — is featured in the August episode of the public radio program Reveal, which will air on stations nationwide throughout the month.
“We are all eager to work together to find substantive solutions to reduce the number of students who are referred to the justice system,” Virginia Director of Juvenile Justice Andrew Block told the Center recently. Block is involved in a review that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked his so-called “children’s cabinet” members to conduct after the Center probe was published, along with a prior companion piece by Reveal.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, an advisory group for law enforcement, used the story and accompanying state-by-state data as part of a training session for brass from around the country this summer.
In Virginia’s Henrico County, near Richmond, Police Chief Douglas Middleton said he’s been concerned for several years that school officials have grown “dependent” on involving school resource officers — who are under his command — in what are essentially discipline violations.
In July, Middleton issued new department guidelines that are designed to limit police involvement in disciplinary issues and reduce unnecessary arrests that are frequently for disorderly conduct or assault. He’s also created a new 40-hour training requirement for school police and is making sure school officials get on board with new policies to limit requests for police intervention.