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L.A. school board to consider phasing out school police under intensifying demands

Demonstrators gather outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Education next week will consider phasing out the school police, essentially eliminating the department over the next four years, a proposal that comes after more than a week of intensifying demands to do so by student advocacy groups and the leadership of the teachers union.

Two other competing school board resolutions also call for a review of police operations, but not an outright termination of the department.

The proposal to eliminate the department over time is being brought forward by Monica Garcia, the board’s longest serving member, as an emergency motion to bypass the normal requirement that a board resolution be presented at one meeting and then acted on at a later meeting.

The debate over school police in Los Angeles has flared since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was Black, died after a white officer pressed his knee against his neck. Protests targeting police brutality against Black people erupted across the nation, including in Los Angeles.

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Last week the leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles voted to support to the elimination of the 720-member school police department, which provides uniformed and armed protection for the nation’s second-largest school district.

Activists, including students, have asserted that the police presence criminalizes students — especially Black students — and that students would be better served if the $70-million budget for policing was shifted to other services, including more mental health counselors, nurses and programs providing behavioral counseling.

Defenders of the school police have countered that school police have special training to work positively with students, de-escalate tensions and protect campuses from outside threats.

Garcia’s resolution calls for the district to reduce the police funding by 50% starting with the budget year that begins July 1, 2021. The following year the budget would drop to 50% of the current level and then to 10% the following year. The phase-out would allow time for district officials to develop alternative security plans.

Money saved would be redirected toward the schools designated as having the highest needs because of factors such as neighborhood poverty, crime and health issues. The superintendent also would be required to provide an annual report on efforts in support of Black students.

Garcia’s motion is likely to have the support of advocates, students and community members who have called for redirecting police department funds. At a Thursday school board committee meeting, representatives of InnerCity Struggle, an Eastside group, and Community Coalition, which works in South L.A., called on officials to defund the police.

The leadership of the teachers union also has supported this goal. A spokeswoman on Thursday said the union leadership had not yet met to weigh the pluses and minuses of either Garcia’s resolution or two others that also focus on school police.

Board member Jackie Goldberg has a resolution that calls for suspending the use of pepper spray and ditching the traditional police uniform in favor of “nonmilitary-style apparel such as polo shirts and chinos.”

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Goldberg’s motion also calls for a hiring freeze for new officers and suspending the use of police dogs. In addition, officers would be directed to station themselves, for now, “at the perimeter of schools rather than on school campuses.”

Concurrently, an appointed panel would present a report by July 30 regarding the future direction of policing and other security efforts.

The third board resolution is from George McKenna, the board’s only Black member and a consistent supporter of the school police.

McKenna wants the district’s existing School Safety Task Force to convene a panel that would review data related to officers’ involvement in campus incidents and determine where there is “a need for guideline changes, additional training and prevention measures.”

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This committee would include the student Board of Education member and representatives of Supt. Austin Beutner, the school police department and other board members. Under both the McKenna and Goldberg proposals, the appointed panel would comprise safety experts, students, parents, teachers and principals.

McKenna’s resolution gives the group until Aug. 31 to complete its analysis.

The proposals by Goldberg and McKenna also are being brought forward as emergency resolutions.

In contrast to the teachers unions, the leadership of the administrators union warned in its newsletter this week against hastily removing the “life-saving support” of school police: “How can the district in good conscience create such a horrendous liability for school-based administrators and worsen working conditions that are already ridiculously atrocious?”

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L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner has not taken a position on the future of school police but has said he supports ending the use of pepper spray and chokeholds. While officers have used pepper spray periodically, the district said it knows of no incidents in recent years in which officers have used a chokehold.

Amid the debate over police, former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines warned the district in an open letter of “potentially destructive consequences” to eliminating school police.

“The LASPD is not only an organization that has proven to be a model agency across this country but an organization that unites a balance of safety with compassion and empathy towards our students, teachers and staff,” Cortines wrote.

Times staff writer Sonali Kohli contributed to this report.


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