LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Louisville Police Chief Erika Shields continues to push for Jefferson County Public Schools to create its own police force following the death of 16-year-old Tyree Smith, community leaders are pushing back.
"I made the comment that one of the things that I was going to push for was for [JCPS] to have their own police department, and I stand by that," Shields said.
In 2019, JCPS cut ties with local police who were providing school resource officers after LMPD reassigned officers during a budget crisis. The district started planning its own in-house security, but leaders said plans stalled during the pandemic.
After Smith was killed in a drive-by shooting at a bus stop on Dr. W.J. Hodge and Chestnut Street, Shields said the city is "dealing with a very difficult gang issue," pointing to young members of different gangs being bussed to the same schools.
"Without having dedicated school resource officers who are trained in identifying gang members, identifying potential conflict, having that constant ongoing communication, we are lacking that critical intelligence," Shields said.
Shields said police arrested four juveniles who went to Eastern the weekend before the shooting. While she said she does not believe Smith was involved in any of that crime, "we owe it to the teachers and the students to know what is going on there."
JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said Tuesday the community needs to look at "deeper, root causes" — not just SROs.
"I'm very disappointed that one of our children, a student of JCPS, was shot and killed — an innocent young man was shot and killed on a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky, waiting for the school bus, and the argument we're having right now is about school resource officers," Pollio said.
Pollio said he was not sure an SRO would have impacted the shooting that killed Smith. He also pointed to data showing fighting referrals during the first 30 days of the 2021-22 school year are down from 2019-20.
In the first 30 days of the academic year, JCPS reported 2,841 fighting referrals. During the 2019-20 school year, JCPS had 5,273 fighting referrals. Pollio said suspensions are also down about 25% from 2019-20.
Louisville Urban League also released a statement saying families impacted by the shooting "deserve more than the knee-jerk response offered by" Shields.
"To that end, we are deeply disappointed that Chief Shields would suggest that a JCPS police force is the answer," the organization said. "Her comments, made hours after the 6 a.m. bus stop tragedy, more than insinuated that blame lies with JCPS and judges. These comments were insensitive, untimely, and unproductive."
Louisville Urban League said Shields deflected responsibility and pointed blame on "an education system whose primary job is to educate, and on public servants, with whom, as we understand it, she had not taken the time to speak."
The organization said there is no clear evidence police in schools will solve any issues, pointing to several pieces of evidence showing the harm of over-policing.
Instead, the Urban League said Shields must work with JCPS and other leaders to find a solution, like training adults on restorative justice practices or investing in social workers and counselors.
"We don’t need more guns in our schools; we need more time to handle the trauma of students impacted by houselessness, gang recruitment, addicted parents, and community violence," the statement says.