The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will slash the number of police officers patrolling hallways in the nation’s second-largest school district by a third.
The New York Times reported that the LAUSD school board approved a plan on Tuesday to eliminate 70 sworn officers, 62 non-sworn officers, and one support staff member. The school district will shift $25 million to fund support services for black students. Officers at secondary schools in L.A. will be replaced with “climate coaches” to mentor students and resolve conflicts. The plan will also ban the use of pepper spray against students.
The move follows months of pressure from activists and students to reduce the number of police in Los Angeles schools. During the summer of 2020, as protests over the police killing of George Floyd swept through major U.S. cities, many school districts began reconsidering their use of school resource officers (SROs). The LAUSD already cut its school police budget by a third last June.
Civil liberties groups and disability advocates have long argued that increases in school police and zero tolerance policies for petty disturbances have fueled the “school-to-prison” pipeline and led to disproportionate enforcement against minorities and students with disabilities.
“Investments and behaviors must be different if we want outcomes to be different,” LAUSD board member Mónica García said in a statement. “Black students, parents, teachers and allies have demanded that we interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) argue that carefully selected, well-trained officers actually act as a filter and decrease arrests by building strong relationships within the school with staff and students.
So far, San Francisco is the largest school district to move toward defunding its SRO program. The Oakland school board also voted unanimously to eliminate the district’s police department and shift its $2.5 million budget to student support services. Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Charlottesville, and Portland, Oregon, have also ended or suspended relationships with local police.
The Des Moines School Board also announced this week that it will replace its SROs.
Reason reported last year on concerns from civil liberties groups and parents over the significant increase in the number of SROs in Florida, where the state legislature passed a law following the mass shooting in Parkland requiring an armed officer or guardian in every K-12 school in the state.
Those fears were backed up by a study published last September that found the number of school arrests in Florida—which had been declining for years—suddenly started to rise after the passage of the law. There was also a sharp increase in the use of physical restraint against students.
“The presence of law enforcement in schools was related to increases in the number of behavioral incidents reported to the state, the number of such incidents reported to law enforcement, and student arrests,” the report concluded. “The results suggest a need to reconsider whether law enforcement should be present in schools, and, if they are, how they can be implemented in a way that minimizes unnecessary exposure of students to law enforcement and arrests.”
Those concerns have been exacerbated by numerous viral videos of excessive force incidents involving SROs.
A North Carolina mother filed a civil rights lawsuit last October against a policeman who handcuffed and held her autistic 7-year-old son prone on the ground for nearly 40 minutes.
Last August, body camera footage emerged showing officers in Key West, Florida, trying and failing to handcuff an 8-year-old boy, whose wrists were too small for the cuffs. An Orlando school cop made national headlines in 2019 when he arrested a 6-year-old girl.