A panel including a sergeant with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and two members of a group seeking to get LASD contracts with Antelope Valley cities and schools discussed the roles of law enforcement officers on school campuses for a little over 90 minutes Thursday.
The virtual conference hosted by the Civilian Oversight Commission — a board of nine volunteers with eight staffers that gives the department recommendations — seemed to be aimed at reducing the role of deputies on campus, a suggestion the commission has previously considered.
The discussion, led by Luis Garcia, a member of the commission and a practicing social worker, started by saying there have been a number of high-profile use-of-force incidents and recent reports of campus profiling that have spurred the current discussion.
Garcia, who is leading the commission’s ad hoc quality of life committee’s look into the practice of having deputies on campus, said the commission has heard public comments about the topic for years. A previous report from the commission looked at the prevalence of racial profiling specifically in the Antelope Valley in comparison to the rest of the county.
“Now we’re doing proactive outreach to learn what the various stakeholders think about the topic,” he said during his introduction.
“While deputies in schools, I imagine, intend to bring safety and security and peace of mind to parents and students and school administrators alike, that doesn’t always seem to be the case,” he said.
Garcia said part of the purpose of Thursday’s discussion, the first of three planned, was for everyone to understand deputies’ various roles, including what they are and aren’t responsible for on a school campus, the student-complaint process and data related to the use of force.
Sgt. Mourad Kabanjian, who leads the training of school resource deputies for the department’s Community Partnership Bureau, started the discussion by talking about the multidisciplinary approach that goes into deputy training.
He also talked about the origins of the program, which started in Flint, Michigan, in 1953. It first came to L.A. County schools 15 years later, and then was adopted by LASD formally in 1998. It currently operates under contract with 47 deputies assigned to 125 schools in 11 districts.
The deputies train 80 hours per year with a focus on what it means to be a school deputy, including education on topics like crisis stabilization and illicit drug activity, Kabanjian said.
Kelly Fischer, deputy director of public health for the Office of Violence Prevention, which is charged with creating and promoting partnerships that reduce violence, spoke next about the background behind a program the OVP is working on called the School Safety Innovation Pilot. The recommendations for the program have not yet been released to the public.
Racquel Derfler and Raycine Ector, who started the AV-based grassroots group Cancel the Contract, talked about the aims of their organization, which started in March 2021 in response to years of accusations of unlawful use-of-force and institutionalized racism in the department.
The two talked about their concerns with profiling on campuses, noting a 2021 oversight commission that looked at the disparity in contacts between law enforcement officers on campus and students of color compared to the rest of the school population.
A couple of the statistics they shared included: “In one school district serviced by Lancaster Station SRDs, Black students were arrested more than 86% of the time contacted by SRD,” according to a report from the Office of the Inspector General. Another statistic was that only two instances out of 812 students’ contacts with SRDs resulted in referrals to a diversion program.
Noting the same statistic, Dara Williams with the Office of Inspector General ques tioned what the department is doing on campus if deputies are not helping students get help.
Williams also said Thursday was the first time she’d heard the sheriff was working on policies to ensure school deputies have the proper training and cultural awareness, but she would have hoped that would have been a more collaborative process to help ensure its effectiveness.
Garcia asked a number of questions of the panelists before turning the discussion over to a question-and-answer session with the panel.
Locally, school officials have asked for more of a deputy presence on campus, as opposed to less.
Four members of the governing board for the William S. Hart Union High School District, when contacted prior to Thursday’s discussion, expressed a desire to have more deputies on campus. The district currently has 17 physical campuses and eight deputies, including a supervising sergeant.
Elementary school district officials shared the same sentiment. According to school officials who spoke on background, even if the funding were in the elementary school districts’ budgets, which it’s not, recent previous conversations with the Sheriff’s Department have indicated that there aren’t enough local deputies available to fill the demand.
There are two additional talks on the topic scheduled for the coming weeks: 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. Aug. 3, which is titled “Deputies in Schools: Ensuring Outcomes & Accountability.”
Anyone who would like to participate or watch the next discussion can get more information and register here: bit.ly/3rFfn7s.
The commission is accepting public comments on the topic to be considered in its report until Aug. 7.