Experts point to a number of factors that lead to the arrests: Some officers are operating without special training. School administrators are desperate to get the attention of uninvolved parents. And overwhelmed teachers are unaware that calling in the police to defuse a situation could lead to serious criminal charges.
"I have had some concern for a while that the schools have relied a little too heavily on police officers to handle disciplinary problems," said Darrel Stephens, a former Charlotte, N.C., police chief and executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
There is little national data to back those assertions; no numbers are tracked nationally on how often police are called in to arrest students. Whether the children are actually charged and saddled with criminal records varies by case and jurisdiction. Some youngsters are charged with felonies. Some are freed without further incident. Others receive tickets.
In Milledgeville, Ga., a city of 18,000 some 90 miles from Atlanta, Salecia Johnson was accused of tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys in an outburst Friday at Creekside Elementary. Police said she also threw a small shelf that struck the principal in the leg, and jumped on a paper shredder and tried to break a glass frame.