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Former Chicago Principal Discusses Schools' Reliance On Police Officers


Metal detectors and armed resource officers have become common in U.S. schools. Of course, there is also a movement to remove police from schools and resistance to that change. June 24, the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted to keep its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department to provide officers in its schools. Liz Dozier was principal at Chicago's Fenger Academy High School for six years and changed that school's approach to security and its reliance on resource officers with results that have been praised. She's now the founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, an organization that raises capital funds for community, justice and youth initiatives and joins us now from Chicago. Ms. Dozier, thanks so much for being with us.

LIZ DOZIER: Thanks so much for having me. I'm glad to be here.

SIMON: We should preface you didn't think that police officers in your school were to blame for violence that occurred.

DOZIER: That's right. A lot of folks think that, you know, when we have police officers in schools that it provides safety. And at least from my vantage point and what I've seen throughout the years is that it's a false sense of safety. And what really undergirds safety is often those student-adult relationships. It is mental health and wellness support. It is an environment that is intentionally created where each student's needs matter.

SIMON: Well, tell us about Fenger when you came there.

DOZIER: Challenging is not even the correct word to describe it. My first year there, we had approximately 300 arrests inside of the school building. We had a 20% dropout rate, about a 40% state graduation rate. I was there for six years with my team, and you fast-forward and those results dramatically shifted. So those arrest rates went down to virtually zero. The graduation rate doubled from 40% to over 80% and that dropout rate was down below 2%. And what caused that shift was not us having school resource officers. It was investing in those things matter. It was creating an environment that was intentionally built around our young people and their specific needs. And that's truly what supports safety in our schools.

SIMON: Does having school resource officers on the grounds get in the way of that?

DOZIER: So we originally had two resource officers that we worked with the commander to move out. They weren't best positioned to work with children. And then we got two resource officers who were fantastic who really bought in to the idea of restorative justice, who bought in to the idea of peace circles and were just absolutely phenomenal.

SIMON: With youngsters seeing protests and learning about the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and videos of police killing unarmed Black people, what do you say to students who might be returning to school in the fall - actually, they've opened summer schools now in Chicago - and who will see police resource officers there?

DOZIER: As I think about our young people coming back to school in whatever form that might be, I think that, as a country, we are at this critical juncture of really understanding, you know, the history of police and, you know, how police were formed, police brutality, you know, what's happened, and it gives a definite (ph) opportunity for learning.

SIMON: I have to ask you on this holiday weekend, Ms. Dozier, the violence is beginning to match the high levels of 2016.


SIMON: And so many of the victims so young. I wonder what your feelings are.

DOZIER: It's almost unfathomable when you think about the number of deaths but also the number of children that we're seeing. I mean, you know, the gun violence over the most recent weekend left 16 people dead, I mean, two young children, 50 others wounded. Father's Day weekend, same thing - 104 people shot, 14 fatally. It is absolutely incredible. But I am - I do have hope, and I think it is not going to be the police alone. It's not going to be the community alone. But it will be us both community and police working together to ensure that our streets are safe.

SIMON: Liz Dozier is a former high school principal of Fenger Academy High School in Chicago and founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. Thank you so much for being with us.

DOZIER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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