The number of students injured by pepper spray and tasers while on school grounds has been on the rise, causing concern over the use of law enforcement during school hours and how much force they should be allowed to use against students.
Police officers became more prevalent in schools in the 1990s and increased in number after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
A national survey of local news reports found that at least 25 children have needed medical attention as a result of school-based injuries caused by police officers and pepper spray, tasers or stun guns since September 1, 2014. However, it is believed that this is not the complete picture, as it is likely that a larger number of incidents have not been reported.
Eugene Paoline, a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida, said that rules concerning the use of nonlethal weapons differs greatly in police departments across the country. Police officers hired by schools are employed by local police departments, making them subject to these differing rules and standards, reports Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post.
“In one department, if police tell you, ‘I want to talk to you about something,’ and you say, ‘I didn’t do anything,’ you’re not posing a threat but you’re resisting. In some departments, they can tase you [for that],” Paoline said. “In other departments, they say, ‘we’re going to reserve the Taser for when [you] start swinging [your] fists at us.’”
Other police officers are hired directly by the school district. These police forces must comply with rules and regulations handed out by each individual district.
The differing policies has created difficulties in finding national data concerning the use of pepper spray and tasers in schools, with even state-level information being inconsistent.
Stun guns can cause irregular heart rhythms or cardiac arrest, while pepper spray can can result in trouble breathing, asthma or temporary vision loss.
On a psychological level, children respond differently. While some may not be affected, “someone who sees a lot of violence in the community or experiences violence at home, or is the victim of teasing, [is] more likely to be set off by it,” said David Osher for he American Institutes for Research.
The latest such incident involved an eighth-grader at Powhatan Junior High School in Virginia. The student, who had been disruptive in the cafeteria according to police reports, was then moved to the assistant principal’s office where the disruptive behavior continued. In the end, the student was charged with felony assault on an officer in addition to two misdemeanors after being hit with a taser.