By The Signal Editorial Board
Anyone who was in the Santa Clarita Valley on Nov. 14, 2019, will never forget that day.
When a 15-year-old Saugus High School student opened fire on his fellow students, killing two of them and wounding several others before turning the gun on himself, there was no shortage of acts of heroism in response to the unthinkable becoming reality in our hometown.
Some of those heroes were students, who helped others to safety. Some were school administrators and teachers, who literally saved lives that day.
And some were law enforcement officers, including several off-duty cops who went toward the danger, not away from it, to help when they saw students fleeing the campus. One of those off-duty deputies had a background as a school resource officer.
The community grieved, and that included our local sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers who call the Santa Clarita Valley home — as well as the school resource deputies who feel an especially close connection to the kids on the SCV’s junior high and high school campuses.
We were reminded of those deputies in particular this week as the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Civilian Oversight Commission held the first of several public forums on the role of school resource officers, and specifically whether the program should continue.
That the LASD advisory body is even asking the question is an indicator of where they are heading with this: The school resource deputy program is squarely in the commission’s crosshairs.
There are arguments both for and against the program.
While it’s true that the school deputy program increases the odds that help is already on campus in the event that something goes wrong, the program is really about much more than that. Having deputies on campus promotes an atmosphere of safety and security, and perhaps most importantly builds positive relationships between law enforcement and young people. That resource deputy who comes to your campus isn’t just a badge and a uniform. It’s a real person who wants you to have a safe learning environment and opportunities to succeed.
Those who want the program canceled argue that it results in a disproportionate number of law enforcement contacts with, and arrests of, students of color.
We at The Signal think the positives outweigh the negatives.
Here in the SCV, local school leaders would like to see more school resource deputies, not fewer — and there are limiting realities, like cost and deputy availability. The William S. Hart Union High School District, which has 17 physical school campuses, has eight school resource deputies under the local contract with LASD, which costs over $1 million per year, shared by the district and the city of Santa Clarita.
With that level of school resource deputy staffing, we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought it constituted a constant security presence on campus. It doesn’t, if nothing else because those eight deputies have to spread their time out among 17 campuses. But, every time they step on campus, they are reinforcing the goal of a safe learning environment, and making human connections and building bonds with students.
Some local elementary school district officials have privately told us they would also like to have resource deputies available for their campuses, but in addition to the costs involved there is also the issue of manpower: The Sheriff’s Department simply doesn’t have enough deputies available.
Those challenges aside, we believe this should be a community-specific decision, as opposed to a mandate handed down from Downtown Los Angeles. We would kindly ask the LASD Civilian Oversight Commission to refrain from killing the school resource deputy program altogether, and instead allow individual communities to make the decision for themselves.
And, we ask those who concur with us to let your voices be heard, and provide the Civilian Oversight Commission your input on why the school resource deputy program is important to our campuses in the SCV.
Different communities have different relationships with their local law enforcement. Often those relationships are shaped by the history law enforcement shares with a community.
Our community has a relationship with its local law enforcement that has been shaped not only by the fact that so many law enforcement officers live here and are part of our community both on-duty and off-duty, but also by the stark reminder we received nearly four years ago — that there are heroes among us who, when they need to, will run toward the danger, instead of away from it.
The LASD Civilian Oversight Commission is hosting two additional online forums on the topic: The second part of the discussion is scheduled to be held Monday from 1 to 2:30 p.m., which is titled “Deputies in Schools: Balancing Safety and Equity,” as well as a third session from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Thursday, which is titled “Deputies in Schools: Ensuring Outcomes & Accountability.” To sign up for the Monday webinar, visit tinyurl.com/msr2xxrf. To sign up for the Thursday webinar, visit tinyurl.com/pj6jdukz. To provide written public comment, go to tinyurl.com/p7cutj7n. The deadline for written comment submissions is Aug. 7.