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Police Free LAUSD Offers a New Vision for Safer Schools: No More Cops 

The Police Free LAUSD coalition created a five-point plan to create safer schools through community-based public safety initiatives rather than through policing. Students, parents, and community members are now pressuring LAUSD to act.

A group of students' rights activists standing on the stairs in front of Horace Mann Junior High School holding banners
Student rights activists during a press conference outside Horace Mann UCLA Community School. (Jon Peltz)

At a January 31 press conference held at Mann UCLA Community School, a group of parents, students, and educators released the Police Free LAUSD coalition’s report, “From Criminalization to Education: A Community Vision for Safe Schools in LAUSD.” This five-point plan presents the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) with alternative means of increasing school safety that would reduce reliance on the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD). The report includes a comprehensive history of policing in schools and an analysis of empirical data that speaks to its ineffectiveness. 

At an LAUSD board meeting held Tuesday, February 7, concerned parents, students, and community members made public comments regarding the report and the topic of policing in schools. Mau Trejo of Students Deserve spoke to Knock LA about Tuesday’s board meeting and plans for the report going forward: 

“I think we’re making it more urgent now than ever to divest from policing and to invest in preventive and community-based public statement resources,” Trejo says. “Both the school board members and the superintendent have always asked us for research, and we have done the research, and this report is an illustration of what a holistic, caring community engagement can look like around safety.”

Below are four key takeaways from the report, which readers are encouraged to read in its entirety.

From Criminalization to Education: Four Key Takeaways 

1) Policing in Schools Dates Back to the 1940s — and Has Ties to Integration 

The origin of policing in public schools dates to fears sparked by integration. In 1948, security units were deployed in schools located in recently integrated neighborhoods. “From Criminalization to Education” details the subsequent steady increase in policing in public schools, including key legislation like the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act that influenced zero-tolerance policies throughout LAUSD. By 2014, LAUSD had received military-grade equipment from the Department of Defense, including 61 assault rifles, three grenade launchers, and one “mine-resistant ambush protected” (MRAP) vehicle.

The origins of school policing in racially based fears are evident in modern statistics. Today, Black students make up 8% of the LAUSD student body, but account for 25% of arrests. In 2019, one case study found that 73% of Black students described school police officers as “overly aggressive.”

2) Policing Is Ineffective and Detrimental to Students’ Mental Health 

Starting in 1993, all secondary schools in LAUSD were required to conduct daily random metal detector searches. Due in large part to community organizing and public pushback, this policy ended July 1, 2020. Not a single firearm was confiscated during this 27-year period. One Washington Law Review study showed that having as little as one school resource officer on campus increased the likelihood of students getting involved in the justice system. 

Policing takes a clear toll on student mental health. Damien Winfrey from Narbonne High School, who attended the January 31 press conference, spoke to Knock LA about how policing in schools negatively impacted learning.  

“I had a few brothers who were getting pepper sprayed, were getting talked about and put out of class, and it was really affecting us,” he said. “We’re very stereotyped. It really made it hard to focus … They [the police] really brought a lot of pain instead of love and protection as they said,” he stated. “A lot of kids including myself, attempted suicide or thought about attempting suicide.”

Statistics provided in the report are aligned with Winfrey’s experience. The UCLA Black Male Institute analyzed nine years worth of student incident reports between 2011 and 2019, a period that saw a notable uptick in policing in schools. Counseling-related incidents increased by 906%, with suicidal behavior topping the list of mental health concerns. 

3) Community Action Is An Effective Means to Reduce Policing in Schools

Organizations such as Students Deserve, Students Not Suspects, the ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Reclaim Our Schools LA, United Teachers Los Angeles, and others have been instrumental in reducing school policing.  

A 2007 parent- and family-led initiative resulted in LAUSD repealing many “zero tolerance policies” and eventually adopting the Discipline Foundation Policy, which prioritizes prevention and intervention over punishment to increase school safety. In 2014, LASPD issued a memorandum outlining their plans to reduce the citation/arrest diversion policy, which allowed LASPD to cite and arrest students on campus for alleged offenses. That same year, the Obama administration released an executive order restricting the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which had previously provided military-grade equipment to LAUSD. The Trump administration later revoked the executive order, but in 2020, a campaign of marches, protests, and other forms of advocacy convinced LAUSD’s board to cut $25 million from the $78 million LASPD budget. 

The report makes clear the importance of community action to achieve these kinds of victories. Speaking of the aforementioned 2014 memo, the report states “the memorandum was not grounded in a moral decision on behalf of LASPD to try and reduce harm to youth, but in response to consistent community pressure to end the criminalization of our youth.”

4) The Report Includes an Actionable Guide to Creating Safe Schools and Real-World Success Stories

The report offers a five-point plan to create safer, more enriching communities for youth and it includes actionable steps. Briefly summarized, the five points are: 

  • Partner with and support families and local communities.
  • Share decision-making policy power with parents, students, teachers, and community involvement. 
  • Support holistic academic achievement.Focus on the whole student. 
  • Focus on the whole student.
  • A safe school is culturally attuned.

Each point includes actionable suggestions for how LAUSD can achieve these goals, such as hiring student climate coaches, holding community training sessions, mandating Black studies in each classroom, and ending its contract with LA County Probation. 

At the January 31 press conference, Winfrey commented on the real-world application of this plan, stating, “We have an entire section dedicated to alternatives to policing in our schools and our communities and yes when I say we’re talking about examples these are the things people are doing in real life today that can be invested in.”

To illustrate the efficacy of such suggestions, the report includes success stories from schools across the country. For example, during the 2020-2021 school year, a parent-led initiative called “Dads on Duty” in a Shreveport, Louisiana, school reduced incidents of school fighting to pre-pandemic lows through non-punitive measures that focused on student mental health. 

Moving Forward 

The report has already attracted some attention from public officials, including Dr. Rocío Rivas, a School Board Representative from Board 2. Speaking to Knock LA, Rivas called the report “a first step,” and said “this is really saying what the community has been demanding, that we reimagine what we mean by safety and safety doesn’t necessarily mean more law enforcement. … So, this is the initial conversation, and it’s gonna take a lot more work.”

Regarding next steps for “From Criminalization to Education,” Trejo encourages people to read the report, saying, “We’re looking for folks to honestly engage with the report and I think most importantly we’re looking at the district to implement what we have outlined.” 

At the time of this article’s publication, LAUSD has no formal plans to discuss the proposals at upcoming board meetings. Readers can download the full report here and sign a letter to LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho voicing support of the plan here.  

Contributing reporting from Jamie Feiler.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of a student and misstated the school they attended. We regret the error.