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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Criminalization Of Classroom Misbehavior

     In 2018, officer Dennis Turner retired from the Orlando Police Department. Upon retirement, as part of the Reserve Officer Program, Mr. Turner took a job as a School Resource Officer (SRO) at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Charter School in Orlando, Florida.

     On September 19. 2019, SRO Turner responded to a first grade classroom where a 6-year-old girl, in the course of throwing a tantrum, either kicked the teacher, a student, or the officer. When the girl wouldn't calm down, officer Turner arrested the kid for battery, placed her into handcuffs (unless they make handcuffs for kids, now, I imagine she was restrained by plastic ties), and drove off with the tiny suspect in the backseat of his patrol car.

     At the Orange County Regional Juvenile Center in Orlando, officials fingerprinted and photographed the tiny arrestee. After being so processed into the criminal justice system, the 6-year-old battery suspect was released to her family.

     SRO Turner had arrested, earlier that day, an unruly 8-year-old boy at the same school. This kid had also been hauled off to the juvenile detention center and processed into the system before being picked up by family members.

     As one might expect, when these kiddy-busts were publicized, the public reacted in disbelief and outrage. What in the hell was going on in that charter school, some kind of miniature crime wave? Orlando Police Chief, Orlando (that's right) Rolon immediately suspended SRO Turner pending the results of an internal inquiry.

     Pursuant to departmental regulations, a SRO cannot arrest a student under the age of 12 without the approval of a watch commander. It appeared that SRO Turner had not complied with that policy.

     According to the the 6-year-old battery suspect's grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, the girl suffered from sleep apnea. It was lack of sleep that caused her to melt down. (Perhaps this will be her defense at trial.)

     Handcuffing misbehaving elementary school children and hauling them off in police cars, over the past ten years or so, has been taking place all over the country. (I've written about dozens of these cases on this blog.) In the past, teachers had the authority to maintain order in their classrooms. Kids that could not be controlled by teachers were much easier to expel. But with the increased militarization of American policing as well as institutional restrictions on teachers' abilities to physically restrain disruptive kids, educators have lost control of their classrooms. As a last resort, they have no choice but to call a cop.

     In the Orlando case, and cases like it, the officers involved did not use good judgment in handcuffing and frogmarching kids out of class like adult criminals. It might be a good idea to allow teachers more authority to maintain order in their classrooms. It is only fair to the other students.

     On September 23, 2019, Chief Rolon fired Dennis Turner.

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