Zero Tolerance is Flawed in Application, Says Attorney David Coolidge

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Information about Zero Tolerance is Flawed in Application, Says Attorney David Coolidge
News & Politics

Published on January 31, 2014

Author: davidcoolidge



Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County, Georgia recently published an op-ed in Juvenile Justice Information Exchange which lays out the benefits of having a cooperative agreement to to reduce the number of school arrests. Clayton was the first county in the country to adopt what is now called the Positive Student Engagement Model for School Policing, and since the measure’s induction in 2004, arrests in local schools have gone down by 83 percent.

Teske feels, and many agree, that PSEMSP is much more effective than standard zero tolerance policies upheld by the majority of school districts, which are flawed not in theory but in practice. While the intentions of such policies are pure, in application they end up being over broad and actually causing more harm than good. Most educators and law enforcers equate zero tolerance with immediate suspension, expulsion, or arrest, without any consideration of the severity of the crime. In this way, officers and administrators fail to distinguish between immature behavior of an adolescent and delinquent behavior of a criminal mind. As a result, courts get overcrowded and resources that should be reserved for actually dangerous cases end up getting diverted.

On the other hand, in Clayton County’s model, law enforcement makes a concerted effort to establish cooperative, trusting relationships with students. Students provide police officers with more information willingly, and a higher number of crimes are prevented and solved. Adults respect the fact that teenager’s brains are still under neurological construction, and they should be shielded from arrest for certain misdemeanor offenses which are typical of youth behavior as their capacity to possess a criminal mind is diminished. Only in particular cases when there is sufficient reason to suspect that an offense is masking a more serious underlying issue will harsher punishments, treatments, or periods of supervision be considered. Teske explains that the policy has been effective because educators have finally stopped addressing problems in the same mindset that created them. As he puts it, if the only tool you have at your disposal is a cop, every problem becomes a crime.

ZERO  TOLERANCE  IN  THEORY  AND  IN   PRACTICE   Attorney  David  Coolidge   January  28,  2014     Judge  Steven  Teske  of  Clayton   County,  Georgia  recently  published   an  op-­‐ed  in  Juvenile  Justice   Information  Exchange  which  lays  out   the  benefits  of  having  a  cooperative   agreement  to  to  reduce  the  number   of  school  arrests.  Clayton  was  the   first  county  in  the  country  to  adopt   what  is  now  called  the  Positive   Student  Engagement  Model  for   School  Policing,  and  since  the   measure’s  induction  in  2004,  arrests   in  local  schools  have  gone  down  by   83  percent.     Teske  feels,  and  many  agree,  that  PSEMSP  is  much  more  effective  than  standard  zero   tolerance  policies  upheld  by  the  majority  of  school  districts,  which  are  flawed  not  in   theory  but  in  practice.  While  the  intentions  of  such  policies  are  pure,  in  application   they  end  up  being  over  broad  and  actually  causing  more  harm  than  good.  Most   educators  and  law  enforcers  equate  zero  tolerance  with  immediate  suspension,   expulsion,  or  arrest,  without  any  consideration  of  the  severity  of  the  crime.  In  this   way,  officers  and  administrators  fail  to  distinguish  between  immature  behavior  of   an  adolescent  and  delinquent  behavior  of  a  criminal  mind.  As  a  result,  courts  get   overcrowded  and  resources  that  should  be  reserved  for  actually  dangerous  cases   end  up  getting  diverted.     On  the  other  hand,  in  Clayton  County’s  model,  law  enforcement  makes  a  concerted   effort  to  establish  cooperative,  trusting  relationships  with  students.  Students   provide  police  officers  with  more  information  willingly,  and  a  higher  number  of   crimes  are  prevented  and  solved.  Adults  respect  the  fact  that  teenager’s  brains  are   still  under  neurological  construction,  and  they  should  be  shielded  from  arrest  for   certain  misdemeanor  offenses  which  are  typical  of  youth  behavior  as  their  capacity   to  possess  a  criminal  mind  is  diminished.  Only  in  particular  cases  when  there  is   sufficient  reason  to  suspect  that  an  offense  is  masking  a  more  serious  underlying   issue  will  harsher  punishments,  treatments,  or  periods  of  supervision  be   considered.  Teske  explains  that  the  policy  has  been  effective  because  educators  have   finally  stopped  addressing  problems  in  the  same  mindset  that  created  them.  As  he  

puts  it,  if  the  only  tool  you  have  at  your  disposal  is  a  cop,  every  problem  becomes  a   crime.       Attorney  David  Coolidge  graduated  at  the  top  of  his  class  from  Duke  University  School   of  Law.  He  has  extensive  misdemeanor  and  felony  criminal  practice,  and  has  also   represented  thousands  of  clients  facing  speeding  tickets  and  other  moving  violations   with  The  Coolidge  Law  Firm  in  Raleigh,  NC.  David  Coolidge  is  also  an  active  member  of   a  number  of  the  state’s  legal  organizations,  including  the  North  Carolina  Bar   Association,  Wake  County  Bar  Association,  Wake  County  Academy  of  Criminal  Trial   Lawyers,  and  North  Carolina  Advocates  for  Justice.  

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