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Shocking video of Alexandria school violence reignites School Resource Officer discussion

A sign outside Alexandria City High School (WJLA){p}{/p}
A sign outside Alexandria City High School (WJLA)

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The videos are shocking. Alexandria middle and high school students punching, kicking, and stomping classmates and adults on and around school property. The videos were captured by students with cell phone cameras, posted on social media, and sent to 7News by concerned parents.

“When I watch these videos, I would say my reaction is shock, complete shock,” said Jennifer Rohrbach in an interview with 7News.

The videos have stunned and terrified parents like Rohrbach, whose 14-year-old daughter attends Alexandria City High School. Rohrbach says she believes the violence would de-escalate if SROs were back on the job.

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“We’re willing to compromise. We’re looking to work together. We’re not trying to insist that our way is the only way."

"I think not having them there has made it, I hate to say, almost a free-for-all.”

The fights, posted on Instagram and Facebook, paint an alarming picture. One video shows an assault in a school cafeteria, another, a brawl in a parking lot with a group of students kicking a classmate on the ground. And a third, captures a violent attack by high school students punching and kicking an adult male in the face and head at a Mcdonald's near the high school. The video shows a hostile verbal exchange between several students and the adult male which quickly turns into a fight.

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Many parents and teachers believe the uptick in violence coincides with the Alexandria City Council’s decision last May to remove School Resource Officers and reallocate the $800,000 in funding to hire mental health professionals. The SROs were released in the beginning of the 2021 school term, yet, so far, no counselors have been hired.

The SROs are police officers, armed and in uniform, who are specifically trained to work in the schools with students. They patrol school property and respond to any threats or disturbances. They also make arrests where criminal acts are involved. But some social justice organizations say they do more harm than good.

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Evelin Urrutia is the Executive Director of Tenants & Workers United of Alexandria, a non-profit organization supporting low-income families and people of color. She says minority students are intimidated by uniformed officers and believes the money could be better spent.

“What I’m saying is that we need a lot of moral support. What is the mental support? Mental health support is so important for our kids and for staff."

"I think we need to invest more into programs that really build relationships among students and teachers,” said Urrutia.

She has also seen the disturbing video but thinks the City Council’s decision to eliminate the SROs is still the correct one.

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However, some law enforcement professionals view the matter differently.

Damon Minnix is an Alexandria police officer and President of the Southern States Benevolent Association. He says SROs are a deterrent. “Wherever you have a police officer, safety tends to follow,” he said.

Alexandria police reports obtained by 7News from 2017 to the present show there has been violence in Alexandria schools, even with SROs. But a police source says the reports only show about half of the violence. The rest are resolved on-site without arrests. In an interview with 7News, we showed Minnix the reports which document at least one rape, assault and battery, and weapons found and confiscated, including firearms.

“Well, for all crimes, you know that the faster you can arrive on scene, the more likely you are to stop it from becoming more serious,” insisted Minnix, emphasizing the importance of intervention.

Alexandra school officials have acknowledged the increase in violence, including a student being shot and another arrested after bringing a handgun to the high school. Last week, at a hearing of the City Council, the school superintendent delivered an urgent message.

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“I’m pleading with the City Council this evening that we reinstate our school resource officers immediately,” said Gregory C. Hutchings Jr., Superintendent of Schools, Alexandria.

But despite the support from the Superintendent, parents like Jennifer Rohrbach feel that the schools have not been fully transparent in describing the seriousness of the problem. And she says they have even criticized parents for speaking out.

“They chastised the parents, such as myself, for advocating for our students. And again, it all goes back to one thing, safe schools for all students,” Rohrbach said.

7News reached out to the four members of the Alexandria City Council who voted to remove the SROs. So far, no one has responded to our requests for an on-camera interview.

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