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Bill Aims to Reduce School-Based Arrests

The December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has led to calls for increased police presence in Connecticut schools.  Lawmakers heard testimony Friday on a measure concerning school-based arrests.

The bill aims to reduce the number of students arrested at school for low-level, non-violent offenses.  Schools would be required to report the number of arrests, and boards of ed would have to have written agreements with local police departments detailing the role of law enforcement in their schools. 

Bridgeport signed an agreement last summer and Police Chief Joe Gaudett says its been effective. "We’ve been able to reduce the number of school based arrests by about 34 percent this last school year."

He says it was clear from the data that where there were police officers in Bridgeport’s schools, there were lots of arrests, "....and in the schools where we didn’t have police officers, we didn’t have very many at all. And it seemed to me as if a lot of these arrests were school discipline issues versus criminal behavior issues."

Hartford also signed an agreement.  In the 2011-12 school year 40 percent of all juvenile arrests in the city were coming from the Hartford Public Schools. This year that’s been reduced to five percent. 

Marisa Halm is an attorney with the Center for Children’s Advocacy. "The children that are getting arrested are our most vulnerable children. These are youth of color, the youth with disabilities."

She says its especially important to address this issue now,  in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. "The response has been both federally and here in the state that we need to ramp up police presence in schools."

Critics say they’re concerned about administrative costs to towns and cities, and about limiting the power of police officers.  

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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