Who should have the most say on policing in schools?
- Students most affected by this regulation?
- Parents who enrolled their students in PUSD?
- Teachers and staff, who work at PUSD?
- The Piedmont community at large?
I feel PUSD school board meetings are the right forum for discussion and debate on this.
The idea of a dedicated police officer was first proposed by the PUSD administration and discussed at the February 27th, 2019 school board meeting, see Randy Booker’s report HERE (will download).
In that report, Superintendent Booker was advocating for an expansion of the roles for policing on school grounds as stated on page 3:
This position looks to partner with school staff to:
1. improve student engagement and connectedness to caring adults,
2. develop substance abuse prevention strategies/programs, and
3. support students in their mental and physical health.
The four main duties are: one of a counselor by talking with students and staff and offering guidance and assistance; one of teacher by providing classroom presentations, supporting on-campus intervention through discussions and lessons, staff development and informational sessions for parents; one of social worker by linking students, parents and staff with resources and services; lastly, as a law enforcement professional. (Emphasis added)
Only activities in the law enforcement professional category may require an armed officer. It is rare a student is armed and none have been arrested.
Another stated program goal and outcomes was: “Redefine student’s ideas of Law Enforcement (usually negative) to reflect highly upon PPD and Law Enforcement in general… Strengthening transparency, partnership, and trust with the police that go beyond the school environment.” Is it the job of PUSD to support other governmental institutions, especially when they are currently under a lot of political debate? For example removing police from schools has been a key demand of the Black Lives Matter movement for years, see:
Page 5 of Booker’s report also has links to a survey sent to parents, students, and staff. The pie charts in the summary of survey respondents showed that 61% of parents and 70% of middle and high school students thought the SRO position was not needed and 68% of parents and 80% of those students felt the SRO position would set the wrong tone for students. A minority of staff shared the same views with 28%-30% being indifferent or neutral on these issues. Clearly the issue is under debate in PUSD as well.
When examining the raw comments from parents and students (also linked on page 5), those in favor often cited the SRO acting as a deterrent to crime and those against it concerned by the conflicting roles of a police officer and counselor or social worker and many stating a dislike for an armed officer. The raw comments for staff echoed the same sentiments but seemed more polarized with many saying an SRO would “help avoid issues” and “deter violence” and almost as many saying the opposite and echoing concerns with “role confusion”, “not being an effective deterrent” as well as “setting the wrong tone for students.”
During the school board discussion in February 2019, the school board did recognize community opposition to an armed officer. The school board voted the SRO proposal down 4-1.
In May of 2019, City Council took over the grant application and reached a compromise to change the SRO position to a then part-time Juvenile Officer (JO) position. According to a conversation I had with Chief Bowers last year, the Juvenile Officer does conduct periodic patrols around the perimeters of the campuses but will generally only respond on campus if called by PUSD staff. Chief Bowers also explained that he does not have any unarmed officers and the JO position has to be armed as well.
The conversion to an off-campus JO position does not appear to address many of the core concerns that parents, students and staff had regarding “role confusion”, “setting the wrong tone”, and “being armed”. Converting the JO role to a full-time position further exacerbates the issue of expansion of police power on campus.
At the 2020 League of Women Voters school board debate, the moderator asked about a uniformed police officer for the schools, see debate summaries (by the editors of Exedra) HERE. The judgement of school board candidates who were endorsed by at least one City councilmember appears below:
“This is a complicated one,” Cooper said. “I think it goes back to honoring and listening to the children who stood up and said this isn’t something that we want on campus. What I would like to see is a mentor position. Someone who can be there for the kids rather than a uniformed police officer. I would rather have this be part of a Wellness Center program or an outreach where this person is providing advice and guidance to our students rather than looking like some kind of security measure that we put on campus where definitely the BIPOC students did not feel comfortable with that.”
Anderson Thigpen said the focus should be on wellness and using Wellness Center resources to tackle these issues. “These funds [the federal grant for the current juvenile liaison officer position] come from a pot of money that is focused on getting kids to not use tobacco products and smoke. “Recently, the Wellness Center, to address the needs of distance learning and COVID and kids feeling isolated, started lunchtime drop-in appointments.”
Kelley noted that this is part of a broader conversation.“What’s appropriate work for police to be doing and what can be handled better by other professionals with other experiences and other skills,” he said. “I would agree that especially listening to the kids that feel perhaps most vulnerable when uniformed police are around and pushing this toward a wellness-focused position is the way that we should explore go forward.”
Said Smegal, “The whole proposal started out as a more traditional school resource officer which was modified. It kind of went through this evolution. We really tried to reach this compromise in terms of this juvenile liaison officer. We have a strong partnership between the city and the schools in serving the needs of the students. We need to work to expand our mental health capacity. This grant does not really fit that need. And it’s my understanding we won’t be pursuing it again.”
Exedra’s summary of my position missed my request for an unarmed officer which I later learned from Chief Bowers is not possible with a sworn peace officer.
Summarizing, it seems that at the time all candidates wanted something other than an armed officer and many wanted greater consultation with the student body impacted by these decisions, not less. I have since learned that all elected school board members now support renewing the JO position.
Per Sara Lillevand’s April 5th report to City Council, the JO position responded to 103 formal calls for service (resulting in 29 incident reports and no arrests) and handled approximately 200 informal requests for assistance at PUSD locations since July 30, 2019. The PUSD campus was closed for most of this time. In the future with the campus open and the JO position extended to full-time, I would expect the number of formal and informal calls to continue at roughly those levels annually.
Every visit to the PUSD campus by an armed officer impacts multiple students at an emotional level. From those who saw the officer approach from a distance to those students who talk about it afterwards. It doesn't really matter if the officer begins their journey from the police station or somewhere on campus. My own daughter reported to me each time she heard the JO was on campus in the fall of 2019 and the fact that all her friends were talking about it. She also reported when students would talk about media stories of an officer shooting a student thinking they had a gun when they did not. Students have gone through a lot over this pandemic and expanding police interactions on campus is not a good way forward.
ALTERNATIVES TO AN ARMED POLICE RESPONSE
In conversation with Randy Booker about this issue, I heard the basic complaint that many of these kids who are having a meltdown or bringing drugs or guns to campus are potentially dangerous for the average teacher to deal with. Is there an alternative to an armed response?
Last year Oakland Council members discussed the possibility of launching a pilot called MACRO (the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland).
The Eugene, OR model of CAHOOTS is being expanded nationwide with funding in the recently passed American Rescue Plan.
I feel the theme of these programs is consistent with the 2020 pre-election positions of most school board candidates. Perhaps they were not aware of these programs when they agreed to back the JO position.
I urge City Council to take this progressive leap forward and examine how to get Piedmont’s share of the $1 billion CAHOOTS Act money and build a non-police force for public wellness.