Posted by R.A. Kohn on April 16, 2018
Corrected – 3:35 pm April 16, 2016. The previous analysis related specific offenses to race and school, but these results were removed until data can be confirmed. The number of arrests by race and school were not affected, and the number of arrests for different offenses have not been affected. Only the pairing of offenses with schools and race are in question.
African American students are 6 times more likely to be arrested in Howard County schools than white students. However, most of the arrests of African Americans occur in a few schools and most offenses were subjectively defined offenses (e.g. disorderly conduct). These results suggest that Howard County police may be profiling African American students in some schools in the school system.
County Executive Allan Kittleman and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano recently instituted a policy to increase police presence in Howard County schools following the shooting in Parkland FL.
The first signs of the new policy wetre observed in Oakland Mills High School where as many as 4 additional police officers were seen patrolling the school at a time when other schools had not seen any additional police activity. Many students and parents reacted negatively to the increased police presence. The students had not been told what was happening, and many were afraid something had happened in their school. Dr. Martirano generally dismissed these concerns saying the majority of parents are in favor of having more police in the schools.
A student at Oakland Mills high school, Samantha Mosely, conducted a survey of students and parents from the County on their thoughts about the increased police presence. More than half of students throughout the school system reported feeling safer with the presence of police in the school, but a high percentage of students felt less safe. The report was published on Google Docs: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1AVghiGvJFgyBfhatQI7Gp2TADspbOKf7y-IYd1MFmbs/edit#slide=id.p.
Arrests in Howard County High Schools
My current post summarizes arrests of students in Howard County high schools in the 2015-2016 academic year. The raw data were made available in MPIA Request number #2018-224 (https://mpia.hcpss.org/requests/2018-224). There were 202 arrests in Howard County high schools in 2015-2016 including 150 (74%) African Americans, 45 (22%) white students, and 7 (3%) Asians. Hispanic ethnicity was not reported.
African American students in Howard County were about 6 times more likely to be arrested than white students. Across the county, 3.2% of African American high school students were arrested in a single year, and 0.6% of white students were.
Certain high schools appear to profile African American students and arrest far more students than other high schools (Figure 1). There was a large variation in the percentage of African American students arrested in different schools ranging from 0 % to 8 %. About 1 out of every 12 African American students in Oakland Mills was arrested in school in a single year. A higher percentage of African American students were arrested in schools that have more African Americans enrolled.
Figure 1. Percentage of African American students arrested in school in 2015-2016 for each high school in Howard County MD, as influenced by percentage of student body that is African American.
The percentage of arrests of African American students was substantially higher in 4 out of 5 of the high schools where at least 25% of students are African American (Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, Hammond, and Long Reach). For example, 40 students were arrested in Oakland Mills High School, the most of any school in the county. All of them were African American.
Note that the number of white students arrested did not increase in schools with more African American students (Figure 2). The highest percentage (3%) was for Long Reach HS, in which many arrests were in the category “other”. We do not have data on the percentage of Hispanic students arrested, but Long Reach and Oakland Mills have the most Hispanic students enrolled.
Figure 2. Percentage of white (including Hispanic) students arrested in school in 2015-2016 for each high school in Howard County MD, as influenced by percentage of student body that is African American.
How can we explain these results?
Some might argue that African American students are particularly poorly behaved in certain schools, and they behave better in other schools. They might argue that the behavior of African Americans is generally worse in schools that have more African American students enrolled. However, no other evidence supports this argument. Also, the fact that lower numbers of African Americans are arrested in Reservoir despite having 33% African American students suggests police or school policy has an impact.
A more likely explanation is that police profile African Americans in certain schools, and therefore make more arrests of them. Schools that have more African Americans are especially targeted by police. African Americans appear to be especially targeted in Oakland Mills high school. Recent experience in the school system supports this explanation.
Oakland Mills was the only high school in which several additional police officers were introduced immediately after the Parkland shooting. You should know that most school mass shootings have been in majority white schools, like Parkland or Sandyhook, by white students or alumni. Why wasn’t the police presence focused on Glenelg or River Hill high schools?
The school system appears to have hidden what offenses were attributed to different races and schools. However, the total for all offenses are shown in Table 1 below. Most common offenses are assault, CDS Possession on school property, disorderly conduct and “other”.
Note that most offenses were for things that did not lead to arrests in high school prior to when police Safety Resource Officers (SRO) were added. For example, fighting becomes assault. Being too loud becomes disorderly conduct. Assault generally means fighting without a weapon and is not always prosecuted. Disorderly conduct and other undefined offenses are subjective findings.
One common offense is possession of CDS on school property. CDS is Controlled Dangerous Substance, which includes a small amount of an illegal drug or legal drug (e.g. cough syrup) that is not permitted on school property. Possession of CDS on school property would be uncovered more frequently with increased searching and surveillance.
The most racially and economically integrated schools in Howard County are Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, Long Reach, Hammond, and Reservoir. The other seven high schools are districted to maintain majority white and Asian populations. It appears that 4 of the integrated schools have a high number of arrests, and many of the arrests in schools are for offenses that are subjective (e.g. disorderly conduct) or result from searching (e.g. CDS possession on school property).