In a groundbreaking agreement, Los Angeles Unified school police will no longer issue citations for most campus fights, petty theft and other minor offenses but instead refer students to counseling and other services, district officials are set to announce Tuesday.
The decisive step away from punitive law enforcement actions reflects growing research that treating minor offenses with police actions does not necessarily make campuses safer, but often pushes struggling students to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.
National studies show that one arrest doubles a student’s risk of dropping out of school, according to Manuel Criollo of the Community Rights Campaign, a Los Angeles civil rights group that has helped spearhead efforts to reduce the police presence on Los Angeles campuses.
"For too long our school playgrounds were minefields of penal code violations and criminalization," Criollo said in a statement. "We believe this policy reverses that trend by prioritizing supportive and restorative approaches."
Activists hope the sweeping reforms in the nation’s second-largest school system will become a national model.
"If fully implemented, this policy will move Los Angeles in the right direction to becoming a nationwide leader in putting intervention and support for struggling students before arrests and juvenile court time," said Laura Faer of Public Counsel, a Los Angeles-based pro bono law firm.
The reforms also are backed by Los Angeles Chief Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash and Judge Donna Groman, who co-hosted a 2012 summit on ways to reduce the number of children arrested for minor offenses. Groman, in a statement, said Juvenile Court "should be the last resort for youth who commit minor school-based offenses."
The agreement to be announced Tuesday was forged after more than two years of discussion among Criollo’s group, Public Counsel, Los Angeles Unified, Los Angeles school district police and others. Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven Zipperman said the new policy contained clear guidelines for his officers to distinguish when offenses should be treated as matters for police or for school and community officials.
Students involved in most fights – which make up about 20% of all student arrests – will be referred to city YouthSource Centers for counseling and other services. Students involved in minor theft or possession of alcohol, tobacco or small amounts of marijuana will also be referred to school or community officials rather than the criminal justice system.
The reforms build on earlier agreements a few years ago to reduce police citations and fines for students who were tardy or absent. Citations have plunged from 10,719 in 2010-11 to 3,000 last year. But African Americans are still disproportionately arrested, making up 31% of 1,100 arrests made by Los Angeles school police in 2013, even though they make up less than 10% of the student population.