Activists, students and parents rallied outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters Tuesday calling for the defunding of the School Police Department, as the Board of Education weighed several proposals for rethinking safety on school campuses.
More than 150 people signed up to address the board at its regular Tuesday meeting, which was held virtually to stay in compliance with coronavirus safety guidelines. As of 11 a.m., two hours into the meeting, comments were still being heard, with the majority of speakers asking for the elimination of school police.
The issue of defunding school police was discussed last week by Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner, who said a district-wide budget review this summer will include a deep look at the Los Angeles School Police Department, which employees more than 400 officers and has a budget of roughly $70 million, representing less than 1% of the district’s annual budget.
Many of those rallying outside the district’s offices Tuesday and addressing the board called for increased mental health services, school nurses and other support for students rather than police. A few speakers argued there might be fewer crimes at schools if students’ basic needs were being met.
The first caller said school safety officers subject students to “daily terror” on campuses.
Speaker Anna Garcia, who identified herself as an educator for an arts organization that works with local schools, called campus police “absurd” and said, “We need teachers. We don’t need police officers.”
But some speakers, mostly parents, supported having officers on campus as an issue of safety.
Following public comment, the board is expected to discuss several proposals, including one by Board of Education member Monica Garcia that would cut the school police budget by 90% by 2024.
A separate proposal from board member Jackie Goldberg would establish a Reimagining School Safety Action Planning Group to make recommendations to the board no later than July 30. Goldberg’s proposal also suggests non-military-style uniforms for officers.
Another option, proposed by board member George McKenna, directs the existing School Safety Task Force to convene an ad-hoc committee to send its findings to the Board of Education no later than Aug. 31.
LAUSD labor groups have offered varying opinions on the issue, with teachers union leaders backing the elimination of school police, while unions representing principals and other workers have expressed the opposite view.
Activists who support total elimination of school police report that Black youth represent less than 9% of the district’s student body but account for a quarter of all arrests, according to the Million Dollar Hoods Project at UCLA.
A group called Students Deserve conducted a survey this year and reported that 5,500 respondents overwhelmingly believed that police were not necessary in schools. Of the Students Deserve survey respondents, 86% called for the defunding of school police, including 88% of Black students.
LAUSD police — who are not part of the Los Angeles Police Department — responded to more than 100,000 calls last year, including threats of mass shootings and bombs at schools, as well as robberies, sexual assaults, burglaries and other serious crimes, Beutner said.
“Black students are disproportionately represented in arrests, yet they are also disproportionately the victims of crimes in schools,” the superintendent noted.
Beutner said the complex issue requires further research by his appointed nine-member task force, which includes himself as well as educators, former public defenders and prosecutors, and public policy experts. The task force is meeting twice a week and plans to deliver a progress report and initial recommendations to the Board of Education sometime in August.
Regardless of what the task force ultimately recommends, Beutner said “random wanding” searches will stop as of July 1, and he is recommending the elimination of officers’ use of pepper spray and carotid holds. Pepper spray was used four times last year by officers at LAUSD, but Beutner said choke holds have not been used for as long as he can remember.