The Stockton Unified School District has a serious problem with over-policing students, according to a new report from the ACLU of Northern California.
Between July 2012 and November 2016, the district’s dedicated police department arrested students at least 1,946 times. Of those nearly 2,000 arrests, 53% were for low-level offenses like truancy, violating curfew, possessing marijuana, and “disturbing the peace.”
In California, kids can get arrested for disturbing the peace by fighting with other kids, just threatening to fight, or even being unruly.
The data revealed that Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) police arrested students with disabilities 318 times during those years. Black students and black students with disabilities were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be arrested or cited by school cops.
Black kids were over three times more likely than any other student group to be arrested or cited for disturbing the peace, which was the most common charge, with 652 arrests. Black students were also two times more likely than white students to be arrested for marijuana possession, the second most common charge.
“When the effects of implicit bias and stereotyping are magnified by the decision to station police in schools, students suffer,” said Linnea Nelson, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
According to the ACLU data, during the 2016-2017 school year, the district spent $3 million in state funds—earmarked for english learners, low-income students, and foster youth—on school police.
The problem isn’t unique to Stockton. In a series on school discipline for the Center for Public Integrity and KQED, reporter Susan Ferriss took an in-depth look at the criminalization of kids in San Bernardino’s schools.
Within the San Bernardino City Unified School District, which has its own dedicated police department with 54 campus security officers, school cops made more than 30,000 arrests of minors between 2005 and 2014. Just 9% of those arrests were for alleged felony offenses. The rest were for minor offenses.
In contrast, back in 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District created a new system of graduated steps for school police to take before a student can be arrested. The agreement also required school officers to take at least one day of free training in more effective restorative justice-focused methods of handling disruptive kids.
Elsewhere in California and across the nation, municipalities are slowly starting to rethink their reliance on law enforcement in schools. Last week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to renew its contract with the LA County Sheriff’s Department to police the county’s public schools. In addition to the contract renewal, the supervisors called on the sheriff’s department to look into providing more training for school cops on subjects such as childhood trauma and adolescent development. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against having “armed, uniformed law enforcement officers” at schools.
“The practice of permanently assigning police officers to school campuses does not make kids safer, nor does it help them grow and thrive,” the ACLU’s Linnea Nelson said. “The vast majority of youthful misbehavior can and should be addressed by counselors and school officials who don’t look at discipline through the lens of criminality.”
The report recommends that funding currently allocated to SUSD’s school police by redirected to hire restorative justice coordinators, counselors, and more teachers and tutors. Additionally, the ACLU says SUSD should require training for all school officers to combat implicit bias and improve “cultural competence.”
School police should not stop and search or question kids for behavior “related to school activity, on school grounds, during school hours, or during school-related events,” according to the report. In cases where cops must question, the district should require a warrant backed by probable cause that the student posed a threat to the safety of others. School police should not arrest students on campus unless a warrant is involved, or if the student presents an immediate threat to those on campus.
The report also recommends that school cops never use physical force on students unless the student is posing immediate danger.
The district should also ensure that students’ parents are notified immediately when kids are questioned, restrained, placed in isolation, searched, or arrested.
The report calls on SUSD collect and publicly share data on interactions between cops and students, including data regarding students’ race, gender, disability status, and more.
Finally, SUSD should create an oversight committee to watch the department. The committee should have the ability to review the applications of prospective school officers, carry out officer evaluations, look into complaints against the cops, and review collected data.