Press ReleasesAugust 19, 2014
Community Effort Leads to Los Angeles School Police Department Policy that Will Significantly Reduce Student Citations and Arrests
Major Reforms to Continue Shift Towards School-Based Supports and Restorative Interventions for Students Over Citations and Arrests
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) has issued sweeping policy reforms to reduce citations and arrests of students in Los Angeles Unified School District as the new school year begins. The policy and protocols require minor law violations that previously resulted in citations and arrests to be addressed through interventions by school site officials and restorative practices or through diversion to a YouthSource or FamilySource Center.
These comprehensive reforms come after more than two years of community organizing by the Community Rights Campaign (CRC) of the Labor Community Strategy Center for adoption of an Equal Protection Plan to curtail police involvement in school discipline and advocacy by Public Counsel to institute alternatives to arrest that more effectively address campus incidents.
In previous years, LAUSD and LASPD, the nation’s second largest school district and largest school police force, have had some of the highest rates of citations and arrests of comparable urban school districts.
Students, community organizers and advocates have long raised civil rights concerns about the criminalization of school discipline and specifically the disproportionate citation and arrest rates for students of color. These community-led efforts have already led to the District and LASPD to reduce citations for students who were late to school or absent by over 90% and a sweeping reform in 2012 to the City of Los Angeles’ daytime curfew law to limit fines for students and end the practice of truancy tickets for tardiness.
National studies show that police contact with young people is a strong predictor of whether a student will fail to finish school, will have to repeat a year, or will end up in the juvenile justice system or criminal justice system. In fact, just one arrest doubles a child’s chance of dropping out of school.
LASPD Chief Steven Zipperman and District leadership have worked collaboratively with community partners on the latest reforms to create a new policy that focuses on supportive interventions for school incidents and preventing students from entering the juvenile and criminal system for minor violations of the law.
In the policy, LASPD Chief Steve Zipperman notes that it “contains clear guidelines regarding the roles and responsibilities of LASPD campus police officers and establishes criteria to assist officers in properly distinguishing school discipline responses to student conduct from criminal responses.”
“It’s exciting to start the new school year seeing how implementation of the new police protocols will create real protections and services for young people. This is a critical step to transforming our schools and it means looking at each student in my neighborhood in South LA, not as a criminal, but as a future change agent,” said Laura Aguilar, Manual Arts High School student.
The new policy requires most school fights between students -- approximately 20% of all student arrests -- to be addressed through interventions at an off-site YouthSource Center. It also requires the majority of incidents that can result in an LASPD citations to appear in court or a referral directly to Probation, like tobacco, alcohol or minor marijuana possession and damage or minor theft of school property, to be referred to school officials or a YouthSource Center to receive positive school discipline interventions and guidance that are central to the District’s Discipline Foundation Policy.
“Taking school fights out of the courtroom and instead teaching students about conflict resolution will keep more students in school on a path to success. This is a significant step forward to ensuring that student behavior is not inappropriately criminalized but rather met with interventions that will address the root causes of a student’s behavior,” said Ruth Cusick, Education Rights Attorney with Public Counsel.
The school police policy addresses several concerns and recommendations that were raised by the Community Rights Campaign in their October 2013 report that highlighted civil rights concerns about the disproportionality in arrests and citation rates for students of color and called for the decriminalization of school discipline. Since 2012, and after the major changes to daytime curfew enforcement, citations have steadily decreased to about 3,000 compared to 7,740 in the 2011-12 school year and 10,719 in 2010-11. However, citations to middle school students remain a large category. Students 14 years old and younger received 45.5% (1,363) of the total citations in 2013. School fighting citations (disturbing the peace) also continues to cause concern as 39% of these tickets are issued to black students.
“This is another important example of the power of community organizing to curb the school to prison pipeline in Los Angeles, an epicenter of change for the entire country,” says Manuel Criollo, Director of Organizing for the Strategy Center’s Community Rights Campaign. “For too long our school playgrounds were minefields of penal code violations and criminalization – we believe this policy reverses that trend by prioritizing supportive and restorative approaches.”
In California, Los Angeles Unified school police join Oakland, San Francisco and Pasadena in enacting much needed reforms that also follow federal guidance released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice to address non-discrimination in school discipline. The focus of these reforms is to reduce student citations and arrests by clarifying the role of law enforcement and to ensure that school discipline is in the hands of administrators, educators and supportive personnel on campus, not the police.
The Los Angeles juvenile court system also supports the new policy and has helped to push for reforms. In late 2012, Chief Juvenile Court Judges Michael Nash and Donna Groman co-hosted a summit with Public Counsel for law enforcement, school, health and human services, and community leaders to come together to develop solutions for the overabundance of children being arrested at school for low-level offenses. The arrest reform project looked at data, including data showing that in 2013, in Los Angeles city alone, LASPD issued nearly 1,100 arrests -- 94.5% of these arrests to students of color. While Black students made up less than 10% of the student population, they received 31% of the total LASPD arrests that took place in the Los Angeles city jurisdiction.
“Juvenile court should be the last resort for youth who commit minor school-based offenses. The education system is better equipped to address behaviors displayed at the school level through restorative justice and other alternative means. I applaud LAUSD and will ensure that the new policy is shared both nationally and statewide as a model response,” said Juvenile Court Judge Donna Groman.
“If fully implemented, this policy will move Los Angeles in the right direction to becoming a nationwide leader in putting intervention and support for struggling students before arrests and juvenile court time,” said Laura Faer, Statewide Education Rights Director, Public Counsel.
The issuance of this policy is a critical step towards implementation of the LAUSD School Climate Bill of Rights, which was championed by the youth coalition Brothers, Sons, Selves, with supporters Public Counsel, CADRE and the L.A. Chapter of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, and builds upon an overall grassroots movement to reverse “zero tolerance” school discipline and ensure equal protection in education for all students.