Two out of three CA high school students have officers on campus
October 5, 2020
As some school districts take a closer look at their campus policing efforts, a new analysis reveals just how prevalent school policing is in California schools.   Two-thirds of California high school students and a quarter of middle school students have School Resource Officers on their campuses, according to the recent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California. The Sept. 2 article also notes that African American and Latino students are more likely to have SROs in their schools than their white peers, raising concerns about disparities in the educational experience.  According to PPIC, most California schools contract with local police departments for SROs — sworn officers that can carry firearms and make legal arrests. However some districts, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, have their own internal departments dedicated entirely to school policing. Due to the current national conversation over policing following shooting deaths of people of color by police, several California districts — including Oakland, West Contra Costa, and Pajaro Valley Unified — have moved to end their agreements with local police departments, while others, including LAUSD, have opted to reduce funding to school policing.  Research has been inconclusive on whether School Resource Officers actually make schools safer, according to PPIC, with student perceptions of safety varying depending on race and gender.  An analysis of policing in LAUSD schools released in June by UCLA’s Black Male Institute pointed out that student safety has not increased even as the district increased spending on policing.  According to “Keeping Students Safe in Los Angeles: An Analysis of LAUSD School Incident Reports & Funding,” LAUSD funds the largest school police department in the U.S., the Los Angeles School Police Department, spending $70 million last year alone. Since 2005-06, the LASPD budget has increased by 48 percent and student enrollment has decreased by 18 percent, yet the authors said that hasn’t led to students feeling any safer. Results from the 2018-19 California School Climate, Health, and Learning Survey show just 58 percent of Black students and 58 percent of Latino students feel safe at school, compared to 75 percent of their white peers.   Black students also have negative perceptions of school police, with 73 percent saying they perceive officers as “overly aggressive” and 67 percent saying they felt officers escalated situations.   There are also disparities in who interacts with LASPD officers, according to the authors, who point to a 2018 report from the UCLA Million Dollar Hoods Project that showed that Black students comprise 8 percent of the student body in LAUSD, yet account for 25 percent of arrests, citations, and diversions.   Aside from not increasing safety on campus, the authors contend these investments do not align with the actual needs students have. The authors looked at data from the district’s electronic tracking system for documenting incidents (Incident System Tracking Accountability Report or ISTAR) and grouped incidents into what they considered police-related issues and counseling-related issues.    Based on this analysis, the number of counseling-related issues has increased by 906 percent since 2011— “an exponential increase in incidents for whom mental health providers would be the most equipped responders,” according to the report. Suicidal behavior is the most commonly reported incident, with 10,840 reports in the 2018-19 school year.   To meet student needs, the report authors recommend increasing the student-to-counselor ratio to 250-to-1, as recommended by the American School Counselor Association; reallocating funding to the Student Equity Needs Index; and listening to Black students to invest in the things that will make them feel safe, such as mental health supports, recreational activities and college and career programs.  The California Legislature has also signaled its intent to evaluate law enforcement presence on school campuses. In SB 98, the education omnibus trailer bill, the Legislature said it may encourage LEAs to allocate funding to “pupil support services, such as mental health services and professional development for school employees on cultural competency and restorative justice, as needed, if found to be a more appropriate use of resources based upon the needs of the pupils and campuses that serve them,” according to the bill text. 

Read the PPIC analysis

Read UCLA’s Black Male Institute brief
Reports shed light on equity issues with school policing
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