Motion to freeze hiring in Helena Police Department until further community ciscussion passes City Commission.
The ACLU of Montana provided testimony at a Helena City Commission Meeting on Monday June 29, 2020 in support of a motion that could pave the way to ending policing in Helena’s schools.
Montana Human Rights Network, The Montana Racial Equity Project, Montana Women Vote, and Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence are also in support of divesting resources away from funding police in Helena’s schools, and reinvesting those resources in services that would benefit the entire community, including students and young people.
“Police don't belong in schools,” said SK Rossi, Policy and Advocacy Director with the ACLU of Montana. “Instead, students need access to well-trained mental health professionals to guide and support them through tough times. Responding to student misbehavior by criminalizing it only harms students, their families, and our communities. There are better, research-based ways to keep our students safe. Tonight’s motion is a step in the right direction.”
According to national research, schools with police are not any safer for students. A report issued in 2019 by the ACLU of Montana showed that schools in Montana with police generally have higher rates of arrests, referrals to law enforcement, and out-of-school suspensions. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students experience disproportionate rates of punishment and police interactions, as do students with disabilities.
Helena Public Schools are not immune to the trends seen across the state, and the country. In the 2015-16 school year:
- Helena Middle School had more than double the average rate of referrals to law enforcement when compared to other middle schools in Montana.
- Helena High and Capital High had three times the average rate of referrals to law enforcement when compared to other high schools.
- Helena Middle School was among the top 50 worst middle schools for rates of Days Lost due to out-of -school suspensions.
- Native American students at Capital in Helena had more than 5 times the rate of Days Lost as white students.
- Native American Students at Helena High had more than 4 times the rate of Days Lost as white students.
- None of Helena’s four schools with police (Helena High School, Capital High School, CR Anderson Middle School, and Helena Middle School) met the recommended ratio for mental health staff, including psychologists, social workers, and counselors.
“Just as it is true with the criminal justice system, school policing disproportionately harms Indigneous, Black and other students of color,” said Judith Heilman, executive director of Montana Racial Equity Project. “School officials in Helena should really be asking why police are in their schools to begin with.”
More than 100 people in Helena have sent messages to the City Commission asking to end policing in Helena’s Public Schools.
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, school districts across the country – including in Minneapolis, Denver, Charlottesville, and Seattle – have recognized the unintended consequences of having police in schools and have made a commitment to remove local police from schools.
The motion in front of the City Commission tonight passed 4-1, and makes $292,000 in personnel services tied to police operations contingent upon future approval by the commission. The deadline for the commission to vote on the use of these funds is August 1, 2020. Advocates are requesting that the city use the money saved to invest in civilian crisis response services that will benefit the community and students. Community members expressed a desire to have more community conversations about how best to use city resources. July 9th will serve as the first of these discussions around police in schools.
"We believe that students and families benefit most from programs specifically designed to meet their needs - like school counselors, nurses, and civilian crisis responders - not from law enforcement in schools. Schools with police are not actually any safer for students, but schools without support programs and staff are measurably less equipped to provide for their students." S.J. Howell, Executive Director, Montana Women Vote
“Data continues to show that regardless of what the initial intent of policing in schools was, the outcomes are more arrests and punishments for students in a school setting and these incidents disproportionately affect students of color. We owe it to students in our district to dig in and address these issues and use our dollars wisely.” Kim Abbot, Co-Director, Montana Human Rights Network