LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s top cop called Wednesday for the city’s school district to start its own police force. Hours after three Jefferson County Public School students were shot at their bus stop, one fatally, Police Chief Erika Shields said she would be “leaning” on the Board of Education to put officers in its 155 school buildings.
“JCPS has to have its own police department,” she said. “There’s no two ways about it. The students and the teachers deserve that.”
Shields said school resource officers, or SROs, are essential to combating a “very difficult gang issue in this city.”
“Without having dedicated school resource officers who are trained in identifying gang members, identifying potential conflict, having that constant ongoing communication, we are lacking critical intelligence,” she said.
In March 2020, the JCPS board was on track to vote on a proposal that would have created an internal force of "school safety officers.” The plan called for the officers, who were to be hired by the district, to carry firearms.
The district began formulating its plan for the internal force in 2019 after ending its relationship with local law enforcement agencies that provided SROs to some schools. The state legislature also passed a bill that year requiring schools to have officers.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said Wednesday that the board, which shelved the discussion over the security force when COVID-19 arrived in Kentucky, will once again “be talking about that.”
But he cautioned that there are challenges related to getting officers into schools. “We have to continuously think about the numbers,” he said. “We have 155 schools and I think with our shortage of police officers, that can be an issue.”
Shields is likely to face opposition from some school board members. Not long after her call for a JCPS police force, District 2 board member Dr. Chris Kolb tweeted that he is “absolutely disgusted” that it took Shields “less than six hours to cynically use the murder of a child to push for a measure that will do nothing to improve safety and will further marginalize black students. Shameful and reprehensible.”
Joseph Marshall, who represents District 4 on the school board, called the shooting “sad and tragic” in a statement to Spectrum News 1. He added: “It's a shame that Chief Shields used it to pass the responsibility onto the local school system. The trauma of violence and the pandemic has deeply affected our students.”
In response to her suggestion that SROs will help fight gang violence, Marshall wrote, “Placing officers in schools to identify ‘gang’ members will only lead to black and brown students continuing to be marginalized. What we need is a more comprehensive, collaborative, and preventive approach to curbing violence in our city.”
Asked for a comment on Chief Shields’ suggestion, District 3 board member James Craig referenced the 2020 proposal on school safety officers and said, “Yes, we need to return to that conversation and take the vote.”
District 5 board member Linda Duncan, meanwhile, was emphatic in her agreement with Shields. "I completely support our having our own police force that follows the policy we have already created," she wrote in an email. "The only way we can meet armed threats is by having armed, trained officers to meet those threats. Otherwise, our students and staff are sitting ducks for an armed person inside a school building."
Erin Kelly produced the video portion of this story.