High-profile incidents of gun violence in schools across the country have escalated demand from parents, teachers, policymakers, and school leaders for stronger school safety interventions. While school-based law enforcement (SBLE) has become a standard intervention, growing steadily over the past several decades, new evidence indicates that SBLE falls short in fulfilling this objective and instead can lead to adverse outcomes for students.

A new study, School‐based law enforcement strategies to reduce crime, increase perceptions of safety, and improve learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools: A systematic review, co-written by Wested’s Justice and Prevention Research Center (JPRC) team and published in Campbell Systematic Reviews examines the literature regarding the outcomes of SBLE implementation related to crime and behavior, perceptions of safety, and learning outcomes.

According to the authors, there is no standard definition for SBLE or a common training, job description, or chain of authority. However, 42 percent of public schools had at least one SBLE officer present at least one day a week during the 2015‐2016 academic year. SBLE presence is linked with an increase in school crime and behavior problems and is associated with increases in school discipline.

“Schools aiming to enhance safety might benefit by shifting resources away from using school-based law enforcement,” said Professor Ben Fisher of University of Wisconsin and study lead author. “Instead, investing in evidence-based strategies, such as school climate improvement designed to prevent problematic behaviors and improve school safety, could yield more positive outcomes.”

Based on 32 reports, the following findings challenge the notion that SBLE contributes positively to students’ overall safety and well-being.

Key findings: 

  • There was no demonstrated reduction in crime and violence.
  • Consistent with other research, SBLE was associated with an increase in exclusionary discipline such as out-of-school suspension.
  • There was mixed evidence on whether SBLE makes students and staff feel safer but this was based on very few studies.

“This study highlights the need for a thoughtful and evidence-based approach to school safety,” said JPRC’s Director and study co-author, Anthony Petrosino. “For schools currently utilizing school-based law enforcement, we recommend a careful examination to ensure that the model has no harmful effects on students, such as exclusionary discipline—and is genuinely providing safety benefits for students and staff.”