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Use of force in city schools merits scrutiny

This week's disturbing video of a South Carolina school police officer body slamming a black girl who refused to leave the classroom exposed the consequence of police disciplining students in our nation's schools ("Since when is classroom backtalk a criminal offense?" Oct. 29). Baltimore's school system has its own examples of school police using excessive force and arresting students, particularly students of color, for nonviolent offenses. Weeks ago, a school police officer pled guilty to assault charges for walloping a middle school girl with a baton and pepper spraying her peers.

While the Baltimore City School Police Force does not publicly report school arrest or use-of-force data, our public records request revealed that in 2014, about one-third of the nearly 400 students arrested were charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and common assault (likely fighting). Also, officers used force in 16 incidents. Their weapon of choice? Pepper spray.

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This year, most school police are no longer in schools; instead, they're patrolling communities around schools in partnership with the Baltimore City Police Department. But their increased presence on city streets in a city that has experienced recent cases of police violence — including the in-custody death of Freddie Gray — may exacerbate the problem.

That is why the NAACP Legal Defense Fund asked the U.S. Department of Justice to include school police in its civil rights investigation of the city police department to determine whether both police forces have engaged in unconstitutional policing. If the Justice Department decides to investigate then the school system should welcome the probe and any suggested changes stemming from it.

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Monique L. Dixon, Washington, D.C.

The writer is deputy director of policy and senior counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

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