SC survey: support for SROs but racial split on use of force

In this Monday, Oct, 26, 2015 photo made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student, Senior Deputy Ben Fields tries to forcibly remove a student who refused to leave her high school math class, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Fields flipped the student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor. (AP Photo)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – A survey just released by USC researchers asked South Carolinians their opinions about School Resource Officers in general and about the case of one who was fired for pulling a student out of her desk last October. Then-Richland County Deputy Ben Fields was the SRO at Spring Valley High School when he was called to a classroom to deal with a student who refused to put her cell phone away and wouldn’t leave the classroom when asked to.


Cell phone video recorded by other students shows Fields trying to pull the girl out of her desk. It falls over during the struggle, and he then pulls her out of the desk and drags her across the floor.


Three days after the incident, the University of South Carolina’s Institute for Public Service and Policy Research started a telephone survey of 334 people in South Carolina. It took six weeks to finish the survey, and USC has just released the results.


Monique Lyle, director of the Institute, says, “African-American respondents and white respondents reached markedly different conclusions about whether firing former deputy Fields was the appropriate decision. So we have a large majority of African-American respondents feeling that it was the right decision to fire former deputy Fields. We have a plurality of white respondents feeling that it was the wrong decision.”


About 81 percent of black respondents thought firing Fields was the right decision, while about 36 percent of white respondents agreed.


The people who took the phone survey were also asked how they felt about the effectiveness of the SRO program. Almost 76 percent of South Carolinians think assigning police officers to schools is a good way to reduce juvenile crime, and more than 90 percent think it’s a good way to enhance safety in schools.


They were also asked whether having officers in schools creates barriers between students and law enforcement. Most people don’t think so, but there was a big split along racial lines. 52 percent of black respondents think having police in schools creates barriers between them and students, while only 31 percent of white respondents think so.


“One takeaway is the task of School Resource Officers appears to be to convince parents that, not only are they there to enhance safety, not only are they there to reduce juvenile crime, but they also are there to foster positive relationships between students and law enforcement,” Lyle says.


There was also a big split along racial lines on the question of whether police in general are too quick to use force, which mirrors other national surveys. “We find a very large majority of black respondents feeling that police officers are too quick to use force, whereas a sizable majority of white respondents feel that police officers use force only when necessary,” Lyle says.


73 percent of black respondents think police are too quick to use force, compared to 24.6 percent of whites. About 66 percent of whites think police use force only when necessary.


Lyle says the survey was a chance for South Carolinians to make their opinions known about a case that got national attention, and lawmakers and policymakers can use the information as they study any potential changes to the School Resource Office program.


You can read the entire survey here.

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