The Val Verde Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday is set to consider a resolution to slash its police budget by 30% and apply available funds to increasing its staff of counselors — a proposal that the Association of Riverside County Chiefs of Police & Sheriff criticized for its “de-fund the police” implications.
“The Board of Education was guaranteed that the Val Verde Police Department was not to significantly exceed the budget of the formerly contracted law enforcement agency,” according to the board resolution on the Tuesday agenda. “This guarantee has been significantly broken and has doubled the cost of law enforcement within the district.”
In 2018, the school district ended its contract with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and formed an independent police agency, composed of five officers and the chief.
According to the resolution on which the three-member board is scheduled to vote, the annual cost of maintaining the police force had originally been projected at $570,000 to $725,000 annually, but the next fiscal year budget is $1.2 million.
The board wants to cap the amount by eliminating one full-time officer and instituting a hiring freeze for the foreseeable future. The police department’s staff of eight reserve officers, who are volunteers, apparently would not be impacted by the budget cut.
The board’s resolution prompted ARCCPS to respond by distributing a letter, approved by District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Sheriff Chad Bianco, taking aim at the resolution’s line noting “there is a considerable amount of research that shows … policing and mental health have a negative association on various individual success measures.”
The resolution goes on to state that “any student who is questioned, detained, or arrested by a police officer, or related staff member, must have a mental health-related evaluation conducted on them directly related to their police encounter.”
“This evaluation must be completed within 48 hours of the incident and must be created and conducted by the mental health staff and counselors,” according to the narrative. “If the evaluation concludes that the mental health of the student was reduced in any degree, it will count as a complaint for the officer or staff member involved.”
ARCCPS interpreted the message as a slap and part of the wider push by some social activists to “de-fund the police.”
“This assault on the character and integrity of all police officers is unconscionable, dishonest and erodes the much-needed trust between the police and our youth,” said ARCCPS President Joseph DelGiudice, who is an investigator for the DA’s office.
“These unsubstantiated claims unnecessarily drive a wedge between the honorable police professionals that serve our communities and the youth,” he said. “If anything is detrimental to the student’s mental health, it is persons in a position of authority deliberately using uninformed rhetoric to de-fund the police and make our schools less safe.”
According to DelGiudice, only last week the Val Verde Unified School District Police Department received a “Model Agency of the Year” award from ARCCPS, pointing to the agency’s professionalism.
According to the school board, more funds need to be spent on counselors in order to raise the student-to-counselor ratio to 250-to-1.
“The district will expand mental health initiatives that include training for teachers, so that teachers know how to identify and address mental health-related crisis and normalize healing practices in and out of the classroom,” according to the resolution.
“Each school site must create teacher/student-(led) mental health student programs, activities and healing circles,” the narrative states. “These teachers will be paid a stipend and must meet weekly. The program will be voluntary for all students, but the district will mandate participation for a select few students who are high need for this program.”
Val Verde is adjacent to the Moreno Valley Unified School District and is comprised of two dozen schools, including an adult learning program.