Thursday, February 18, 2010

In-House Peace Force Proposal No Easy Sell For City Schools

In-House Peace Force Proposal No Easy Sell For City Schools
By Wiley Henry | Published Today
Memphis Tri-State Defender

The superintendent of Memphis City Schools was in Nashville Wednesday seeking legislative support to establish an in-house peace force “to protect, educate and redirect students’ behavior.”

On Tuesday, a group of ministers and civic leaders held a press conference to support Dr. Kriner Cash’s proposal for a peace force in Memphis City Schools. From left, Gregory Grant, president of the local chapter of the National Action Network; Rev. William Owens, president, the Coalition of African-American Pastors; Rev. Dwight Montgomery, president of the local chapter of Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Rev. H.O. Kneeland, pastor of Union Valley Baptist Church. (Photo by Wiley Henry)

“We need enabling legislation, which simply would give us the authority to be able to establish a school peace officer corps,” Dr. Kriner Cash told the Tri-State Defender.

“This is a tool that we need in our tool box to help these young people become better educated and redirect their behavior,” he said. “All the evidence suggests that.”

Cash accepted the superintendent’s job in June of 2008. Three shootings had occurred on school grounds during the just-concluded school year and school board commissioners asked the new hire how he would deal with the problem.

Cash told them that he’d like to see Tennessee’s largest school district establish its own peace officer corps. Such a force had been effective, he said, in the Miami-Dade County (Florida) Public Schools where he had worked.

Two years later, Cash is still trying to establish a corps of culturally-trained officers with the authority to arrest and transport. His proposal, however, is attracting both critics and supporters.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. this week said while there is a need for a full-time security force with specified training, too many questions remain unanswered.

“A school district police force is an idea whose time has not yet fully arrived,” said Wharton.

On Tuesday, a group of ministers and civic leaders held a press conference to explain their position on Cash’s peace force and their opposition to Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin’s preferred police officers in the schools.

“Prior to Dr. Cash calling for a peace force, we had received calls from parents saying how their children were being mistreated by the police,” said Rev. Dwight Montgomery, president of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) chapter.

He said abuse involving MPD officers in the schools are unacceptable. He supports Cash’s call for a peace force.

According to Montgomery, a Hamilton High School student that he mentored was hit over the head by a narcotics officer, who handcuffed the student and took him to Juvenile Court, where he was held for trespassing. The incident happened last week, he said.

“That’s excessive,” said Montgomery. “The MPD had acted inappropriately. That’s why we at SCLC support Dr. Cash’s peace force.”

If the state doesn’t approve the superintendent’s proposal, “something must be done,” said Montgomery. “I know of 15 to 20 cases where children have been mistreated by police officers.”

Told of Montgomery’s assertion, Godwin said, “I make the recommendation to bring them to the ISB (Inspectional Service Bureau) and we will investigate them.”

Gregory Grant, president of the local chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, proposes establishing a family court to deal with errant behavior rather than Juvenile Court.

“This is a court of documentation,” said Grant, noting that children taken into the criminal justice system could be labeled as felons for the rest of their lives.

Children see the police as terrorist, said Rev. Andrew Jackson of Faith Temple Ministry. “Something needs to be done.”

Cash said it’s his duty and responsibility to protect the district’s 105,000 students in K-12. “If something happens inside these schools, everyone holds me accountable for that. I’m asking for the tools I need to do my job.”

He estimates that about $10 million is needed to establish a peace force – funds, he said, that are already allocated in the budget. “You’ll actually see savings with this model,” he said.

Montgomery and Grant are concerned that law enforcement officers in the city take students to Juvenile Court at a much higher rate than law enforcement officers transport students in Shelby County Schools.

“There is tremendous disparity within that (Juvenile Court) system,” said Cash. “I’m trying to do something about those disparities in a constructive way.”

Cash said he’s trying to stem the tide of violence, incarceration and transport to keep students out of the criminal justice system.

“A peace force is primarily educative and not repressive, and would stop the flow of students from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” said Cash, adding that too many students are locked up for minor offenses.

“We follow the rules,” said Godwin. “We follow the law. If a misdemeanor occurs in our presence, we are bound by law to make an arrest. ”

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