A survey by the University of South Carolina found a clear racial divide over the firing of a school resource officer, Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Ben Fields for the way he handled a disruptive student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia in October 2015.
Survey director Dr. Monique Lyle told South Carolina Radio Network that researchers wanted to assess the public’s reaction to the incident “to get a sense for how South Carolinians’ felt about this event.”
She said the survey found that almost 81% of black respondents felt that Richland County made the right decision to fire Deputy Fields, yet only 35.5% of white respondents felt this way.
Of all who responded, 48.1% said the county made the right decision, but the difference was stark when broken down by race. 34.6% of whites said they thought the county made the wrong decision compared to 11.5% of black people surveyed who thought so.
The survey was conducted by telephone starting on October 29, 2015, with calls to 334 randomly-selected adults in South Carolina.
Despite the stark differences, a majority of both black and white respondents indicated support for the school resource officer program. 80 percent of whites and 63 percent of African-Americans surveyed said they either strongly or “somewhat” agreed that assigning officers to schools is “a good way to reduce juvenile crime.” Only 25.2 percent of black respondents and 11.8 percent of whites indicated they disagreed. 85 percent of African-Americans and 91 percent of white respondents agreed SROs were a good way to “enhance safety” in schools.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Carolina this month filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s “disturbing schools” law. One of the plaintiffs was arrested as a result of the incident at Spring Valley High School.
The event gained negative attention. “It ignited national discussions on the role of police officers in schools,” Lyle said.