By: Nick Sanchez and Alex S. Vitale
Over the last few years, dozens of cities, large and small, have eliminated school policing programs and replaced them with a variety of student services and alternative disciplinary systems. Here in Los Angeles County several communities have eliminated or scaled back school policing as part of their efforts to produce safer, more successful schools. These movements have been led primarily by parents and students themselves and have occurred mostly in low-income communities of color.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, voted unanimously in 2021 to significantly scale back its school police force, by reducing the number of officers by 133 and reducing the police budget from $77.5 million to $52.5 million. That savings, plus additional resources went into a “Black Student Achievement Plan” that included $30.1 million for school climate and wellness to reduce over- identification of Black students in suspensions, discipline, and other measures through targeted intervention; $18.4 million for psychiatric social workers, counselors, and school climate coaches; and $2.4 million for teacher professional development, among other key changes.
Claremont, a city in Northeast Los Angeles County, also recently stopped using cops on campuses. As a result of organizing by the Claremont Student Equity Coalition, the Claremont City Council voted unanimously to end its SRO program in July 2021. In its place they have created new mental health and social support services and increased training for teachers and staff to better manage conflicts and disruptive behavior.
In July 2021, following a 4-year campaign led by Gente Organizada, the Pomona Unified School District voted to end its school policing program and to replace it with proctors trained in de-escalation techniques. These proctors are often parents or former students. In addition, resources were transferred into efforts to acclimate students to coming back to school following Covid shutdowns. Unfortunately, in 2022, a more conservative School Board was elected that brought back the contract with the Pomona Police Department to provide school police. Organizers remain committed to removing officers permanently from their schools.
In each of these communities, school policing was replaced by concrete alternative strategies for keeping young people safe and helping foster their education that don’t come with the negative consequences of relying on police. Instead, students are provided with professional care from counselors and psychiatrists, and provided with sufficient programs that nurture students’ wellness, academic and otherwise. This type of approach protects our young people from the school to prison pipeline from which contact with law enforcement is often the cause.
There is a growing list of evidence-based interventions that schools are using to make students safer than by just relying on school police. Increased classroom support staff, emotional social learning programs, hiring more counselors and mental health workers, developing restorative justice programs, and offering more high-quality afterschool programs are just a few examples.
No one intervention will single-handedly replace school police. What is needed is a constellation of programs that address the specific needs of specific school settings. As the needs of these schools’ change, so should the programmatic responses. Therefore, what is most needed is not a one size fits all ready-made program, but instead a menu of alternatives that can be drawn upon to address the needs of different schools at different times. The options we reference represent evidence-based practices that school systems across the country have undertaken in different combinations and intensities.
It’s time for school districts in the Antelope Valley to follow the lead of dozens of cities across California and the rest of the US to adopt police free schools. We’re ready to begin a community-driven process to address how we are reimagining safety in the AV. Having launched the coalition a little over a year ago, we are focused on developing alternatives to policing in schools and are hoping the community will join us in advocating for a school district that upholds care over police.