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Eliminate school police, L.A. teachers union leaders say

Sarah Djato, right, listens to speakers for the removal of police from the Los Angeles school system on June 8.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times
)

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles said Monday they support a movement to eliminate the Los Angeles School Police Department, a force of about 400 that serves the L.A. Unified School District and accounts for about $70 million of the district’s $7.9 billion budget.

“We have to dismantle white supremacy. We must ... defund the police and bring in the mental health services that our students need,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, the incoming president of UTLA, which represents about 30,000 teachers, nurses, counselors and other staff in the school district.

The union’s board of directors voted last week, 35-2, to “start a process” that will ultimately lead to a larger union vote on whether or not to push the school board to “take money out of the school police department and put it directly into mental health support, counselors, academic counselors,” current UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said. “We can have 800 mental health supporters by using that money.”

The movement to defund school police has been a concern of education equity advocates for year. But the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd and calls to defund the Los Angeles Police Department and some others throughout the country nationwide reinvigorated their calls in the past days.

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The union leadership endorsement and public announcement during a labor news conference with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles bring an influential voice to what is certain to be an intense debate over school safety.

School police are necessary to keep the peace at schools and are trained in deescalate situations better than other officers, who would be called to campuses in their absence, said Gil Gamez, president of the school police union.

“We are trained different. We have a vested interest ... we had restorative justice [training], our police officers come from the communities they serve,” Gamez said. Many, he said, are L.A. Unified graduates and work closely with school counselors. “To see us be demonized and ostracized, I don’t get it.”

Sarah Djato, a Dorsey High School student who said she last year watched L.A. School Police pepper-spray classmates during a fight, impacting those fighting as well as many around them, said school police presence is detrimental.

“When you’re having this continuously happen ... to black students, it becomes in our minds that that is normal and that’s the way we’re supposed to treat situations and you defuse it by force, and that violence is OK and violence is normal,” said Sarah, 16, an organizer in the local youth activism group Students Deserve.

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“I don’t even know how to describe how detrimental that is because I haven’t grown yet.”


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