Nearly every day when I go through reports at the St. Paul police station, I can count on coming across a few that involve students fighting — or committing other violations — at school.
There was the junior high student who threw chairs around the school office and the student who stabbed another kid in the arm with a pencil.
Some don’t list whether they were suspended, and often it’s hard to tell from the description whether the kids should be arrested or left in school. What is clear, police say, is that many of the students who come into contact with them are minority students.
A year after the St. Paul public schools were criticized over the black student rate of suspension, overall numbers have dropped by nearly one-third. At the end of the school year, police will analyze if reports of disorderly conduct, which has also been found to disproportionately involve minority students, have dropped as well.
The St. Paul police are looking to see whether this year’s new school resource officer manual is helping to keep kids in school by limiting arrests for that type of conduct.
As part of the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), a project that’s trying to reduce overreliance on jailing kids, especially minorities, St. Paul police analyzed their operating procedures and policies to see if they could find any unintended bias.
They found that 80 percent of youths arrested in schools on suspicion of disorderly conduct were minorities, Senior Cmdr. Gene Polyak said.
And some of the disorderly conduct reports may have involved students “horseplaying,” he said.
“I think over time we just slid into that area where we dealt with it by making an arrest and getting the child out of the school environment and putting them in the home or putting them in detention,” Polyak said.
School resource officer manuals now include a policy that limits disorderly conduct arrests. Schools use a behavioral matrix with different steps before involving police.
“We just want to make sure that we as law enforcement don’t deal with matters until they’re criminal,” Polyak said.