(Photograph by R.D. Smith/Unsplas)

By Maya Pottiger

This story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and USA TODAY.

Since the summer of 2020, there has been a lasting national focus on the relationship between the police and Black people in this country. One of the bigger conversations has surrounded the role of police officers in society and how that could be changed.

Though they don’t immediately come to mind at the designation “police officer,” the position of “school resource officer” or “school safety officer” has widely existed in schools since 1999, in response to the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. But their presence in schools hasn’t always been positive.

In 46 states, Black students were referred to law enforcement at higher rates than the total rate of referrals for all students across the country, according to federal data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.

The national average showed 4.5 law enforcement referrals per 1,000 students. On average, 8.4 Black students per 1,000 saw a law enforcement referral.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the only demographic in this category. Students with disabilities in every state, Native American students in 32 states, Hispanic students in 21 states and white students in eight states all had referral rates higher than the total rate of referrals nationwide.

The data is from a Center for Public Integrity project called “Criminalizing Kids,” and this story was produced as part of a collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and USA TODAY.

The states with the highest referrals of Black students per 1,000 enrolled Virginia (25.7), Pennsylvania (23.6), New Hampshire (22.3), South Dakota (20.2) and Wisconsin (20).

“Rather than preventing crime, have been linked with increased arrests for noncriminal, youthful behavior, fueling the school-to-prison pipeline,” according to an April 2021 report from The Brookings Institution.

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