Activists want guidelines for L.A. school police

Call for "parameters" as city police, post-Newtown, sent to check in on Los Angeles grammar schools

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A new report by KPCC Southern California Public Radio focuses on continuing debate in Los Angeles over when it’s appropriate for school police to get involved in ticketing or arresting students.

In collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity, KPCC reported Monday that nearly half of all tickets issued in the mostly-minority Los Angeles Unified School District are still being given to students 14 or younger. The most common charge is disturbing the peace. That’s roughly the same proportion that previous Center and public radio reports found when analyzing older data. Administrators pledged reforms after those earlier stories.  

As the KPCC and Center joint report says, the L.A. district is continuing to institute “positive behavior support” methods in every school as way to both limit student suspensions and moderate law-enforcement involvement in discipline matters. The district’s “strategic plan” for 2012-2015 declares a commitment to “a non-punitive enforcement model that supports strategic problem-solving models rather than citation and arrest-driven enforcement.”

However, not all schools have adopted the new models. And the district hasn’t sufficiently clarified standards for ticketing, a Los Angeles student-parent group, the Community Rights Campaign, said in a Jan. 2 letter it sent to Superintendent John Deasy.

The group noted that, according to recent data, school police in Los Angeles are still giving out more tickets than police in New York City’s district, which is larger.

Black students, who make up about 10 percent of the L.A. district’s students, comprised 20 percent of all students ticketed in recent months, the Community Rights Campaign said. And, as the Center pointed out, students as young as six and seven have been cited, the group said.

“We remain firm that the district needs to implement specific guidelines preventing the use of citations, arrests and other formal law enforcement interventions for school discipline,” the group’s letter says.

Los Angeles Unified has the nation’s largest school police force.

Juvenile court judges in Los Angeles, probation officers, school police and administrators are currently discussing how to set specific standards for police intervention in schools.

Over time, judges and civil rights attorneys in Los Angeles have become concerned that school-police tickets – more than 1,000 in September and October -- are disproportionately given out in low-income schools whose students are mostly Latino and black.

Middle schools with high citation rates feed into high schools with high dropout rates. Judges said that in recent years, they began to feel that too many students accused of schoolyard fights in middle school and other minor infractions were being inappropriately ticketed in certain schools.

The release of citations data over the last year has confirmed these concerns, judges say.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is monitoring Los Angeles Unified’s agreement with the department to change academic and discipline practices. Citations are among the trends the department said it would monitor.

In its Jan. 2 letter, the Community Rights Campaign also expressed concern about the district’s recent decision to initiate daily patrols by Los Angeles city police officers inside elementary schools. The decision to organize city police checks at schools followed the massacre of 20 school children by a man who shot his way into a school in Newtown, Conn., last month.

While the need “to act” is understandable, the group said, its members are concerned that there have not been public discussions about this decision, nor clear “parameters” set for the role of officers.

The Community Rights Campaign is part of the Labor-Community Strategy Center, which successfully organized students last year to stop early-morning police sweeps around Los Angeles’ inner-city schools, where students were being ticketed even if only minutes late.  Some students were handcuffed and searched.