Citing privacy issues and an interest in ensuring that school disciplinary issues are appropriately addressed internally and without the interference of law enforcement, nine organizations in Rhode Island which advocate for the interests of students sent a letter to all school district superintendents in the state urging them not to equip school resource officers (SROs) with body cameras. The letter was sent following the recent promulgation of state regulations for the statewide body-worn camera (BWC) program, and the award of grants to municipalities for that program, which leaves the issue of outfitting SROs with BWCs to the discretion of school districts.

While noting the interest the nine organizations have in “oversight, transparency, and accountability of policing systems,” the letter pointed out the unique implications for introducing BWCs to the school environment, particularly that “the closed environment in which school-based law enforcement interactions are contained, and the likelihood of these interactions occurring around numerous other students, puts students at risk of being recorded whenever an SRO has contact with their peers.”

The letter further expressed concern that the organizations could “easily envision BWC footage being used for the purposes of internal disciplinary procedures, with administrators viewing BWC footage with the intention of using it to punish students for minor behaviors which could and should be navigated outside of the scope of both police involvement and police surveillance technology.” The groups concluded by noting their interest in “ensuring a safe and equitable environment for all students” without police presence on school campuses, and the fear that “the introduction of BWCs will only amplify this presence, and could have harmful residual effects on student privacy and other rights.”

The letter was signed by the ACLU of Rhode Island, Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE), Parents Leading for Educational Equity (PLEE), Providence Student Union, Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Rhode Island Center for Justice, Rhode Island Kids Count, Youth in Action, and Young Voices.

Paige Clausius-Parks, Senior Policy Analyst at Rhode Island Kids Count said: “Students need a positive school climate that nurtures healthy student-teacher relationships, provides mental and behavioral health supports, and refrains from both harsh disciplinary practices and usage of police surveillance technology.”

Hannah Stern, Policy Associate at the ACLU of RI said: “Students shouldn’t have to worry about how surveillance and police presence will impact their ability to have an enriching and uplifting educational experience. We strongly urge all districts to consider the harmful ramifications that could flow from use of such surveillance technology.”