Oversight commission continues talk on school resource deputies  

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The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station. Courtesy of the city of Santa Clarita.

The L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission on Monday once again met to discuss potential recommendations for the Sheriff’s Department on how deputies are utilized on school campuses. 

The process follows a series of reports with data that indicated school deputies had a higher propensity to stop and question students of color and that only two students out of 812 school contacts with deputies resulted in a referral. 

Two representatives of Cancel the Contract talked about their concerns during Thursday’s discussion, while the sergeant in charge of training resource deputies discussed the multidisciplinary approach and training requirements for school deputies. 

This week’s first discussion was titled “Balancing Safety & Equity,” which included opinions from the Lynwood Unified School District, Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County, a representative from the L.A. County Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and a board member of the California School Resource Officers Association. 

Commissioner Luis Garcia was leading the talks on behalf of the county’s oversight commission.  

“While school resource deputies are tasked to ensure school safety, there is a debate about the impact of engagement these officers have with students,” Garcia said, citing the reports of profiling presented by the Antelope Valley chapter of Cancel the Contract, which is trying to get local cities and school districts to end their law enforcement contracts with LASD.  

The discussion began with Gary Hardie, a nine-year governing board member for the local school district in Lynwood, which has approximately 98% of its students on the state’s free and reduced lunch program. 

He said by investing in outcomes for students as opposed to school deputies, the district was able to improve its graduation rate at two sites in particular from 68% and 69% to 94% and 97%, respectively, at Lynwood and Firebaugh high schools. 

“The goal of education should be to build strong young people and if we do so we won’t have to work on repairing broken adults,” he said, adding that one of the biggest ways the district turned things around was by creating health partnerships and more of a focus on college-prep work. 

An investment in prevention programs ended up being better for the district than investing in school resource deputies who often were taken away to respond to local law enforcement concerns as opposed to campus outreach, he added. 

Sal Arias, a principal, former social worker with the Probation Department and a member of the governing board for the state’s association for resource officers, offered a different perspective, including as a former student in the Los Angeles Unified School District. 

Arias, whose district is in Kern County and works extensively with a population of students considered at risk, including gang members, said the school resource officer who works with his schools is invaluable. 

He spoke of the deterrent that having an officer engaged with the student can bring and how their officer helps the schools stay informed and talk to parents, as well as being a resource for campus administrators. 

The Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A. County discussed its report on referrals to school resource deputies, which it compiled after a two-year look into the Antelope Valley Union High School District. 

Three of the biggest allegations against the AV districts included that the district disproportionately refers students with disabilities and Black students with disabilities to LASD; the district empowers LASD to intervene in minor school discipline issues; and LASD disproportionately restrains and uses more force than necessary on these students.  

Jaime Hernandez, who created the report on behalf of the legal services group, offered several recommendations for school districts that want to use officers, including a memorandum of understanding that would detail were it would be appropriate for an officer to intervene. He also suggested schools prioritize behavioral support and counseling over school officers. 

Cesar Sanchez, who works with the county’s Anti-racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, talked about structural racism regarding the context of school officers, and how communities should be involved in the conversation surrounding the role that school officers play in their campuses. 

 “We do need to be strategic about it and we need to also show community members that we have taken the feedback and how that has actually been taken into consideration,” Sanchez said, “and how the feedback has served as information to have around strategies that we’re hearing from community members.” 

Local school leaders especially have asked for this type of consideration, particularly as it considers evaluating its investment in the contracts for a Sheriff’s Department presence on campus.  

In the Santa Clarita Valley, that sentiment has been appreciated, as local officials have asked to have input and control over the contracts with school resource deputies. 

In conversations with representatives from four local school districts, all expressed to The Signal that they’ve explored options for having more of a deputy presence on their campuses; however, the problems they’ve come up against in their efforts have been one of manpower and funding. 

Anyone can register to view the meetings and participate in public comment at the commission’s website, COC.lacounty.gov. The next talk is titled “Ensuring Outcomes & Accountability” on Thursday. The deadline for submitting comments that the commission might consider for its recommendations is Aug. 7. To provide written public comment, go to tinyurl.com/p7cutj7n

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