“Students, including myself, don’t feel safe around police officers because they carry guns and I have to constantly watch my back instead of feeling safe,” said Aleita Cook, a Junior at Providence Career and Technical Academy (PCTA) and a member of the Providence Student Union (PSU).

Cook was testifying before the Rhode Island Senate Education Committee on three bills, S2773, S2774, S2796 that would put “resource officers,” armed police officers, in every school in Rhode Island. Committee Chair Senator Hanna Gallo (Democrat, District 27, Cranston), said Rhode Island Department of Administration estimated cost off the program would be $28 million annually to pay for 37 chief resource officers and “hundreds” of resource officers, the cost to be split between the state and the municipalities.

“Also, this would be expensive,” continued Cook. “So if you’re thinking about where to put the $14 million, here are three solutions that will benefit my school life:

  1. Putting money towards fixing school buildings. So, like I said, I go to PCTA and sometimes our plumbing isn’t the best, our bathrooms smell like sewage, the locks [on our stalls] are bad, sometimes we get stuck in the bathrooms.
  2. Social and mental health workers. So, we don’t have social and mental health workers in our schools. We only have guidance counselors and guidance counselors are useful to help with colleges and scholarships, not really [someone] to go to to talk about how we feel and our lives outside off school.
  3. More nurses. So, at my school, when you have one nurse, and sometimes around fourth period our nurse goes on break, and I need the nurse because I need menstrual products or ice or anything, nine times out of ten I have to go to the office and thee office don’t supply those things. And I’m pretty sure a police officer can’t supply those things to students. And we can’t go to those police officers if we want to talk because I don’t feel like that’s what their jobs are.

“I’m just talking from my experience, but I know there are thousands of other students from across Rhode Island that have the same problems as me or more, and putting money towards these three things will really help students and make our school lives better,” said Cook finishing her testimony. “And I feel that it can help us learn too.”

“One source of [suggested] funding is an additional fee for parties seeking expungement of their criminal records,” said Chair Gallo. “A 50 percent increase… would deter people from being able to file for expungement, and this will harm people who have turned their lives around but cannot get employment due to criminal status, therefore defeating the purpose of the expungement… [Another] source of [suggested] funding is from defendants charged before the gun court… As many of those defendants end up in jail, with no means of paying, I don’t think you can count on that source of funding.”

“Increased law enforcement in our schools may be intended to protect the student body, but these officers are often relied upon to address routine school discipline,” said Catherine Tonsberg, policy associate at the ACLU of Rhode Island. “What we see is that the tools the police are trained in are not appropriate for addressing issues with students in schools.

“A few years ago we filed open records requests with school department throughout the state of Rhode Island asking for information regarding their use of school resource officers and what we saw was arrests for minor crimes like disorderly conduct. We saw documented cases of escalation of things like dress code infractions resulting in arrest. What we see is that the police presence often results in arrests for minor misconduct that could and should have been treated internally as a school discipline problem.”

You can watch the rest of the public testimony below:

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