Panel discusses ‘reimagining’ of deputies on campus 

The new Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station. Courtesy of the city of Santa Clarita.
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The L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission held its third of three talks scheduled about deputies on school campuses, which seemed to focus on looking at ways the current program could be changed to address community concerns about profiling, disproportionate responses and a lack of actionable data. 

Jewel Forbes, project director for L.A. County Office of Education’s Community Health and Safe Schools in Student Support Services, talked about a “reimagining” of the role for school deputies with additional training to help them understand the unique challenges students face and bring to the campus-policing environment. 

The commission is an advisory body that makes suggestions to the county’s board of supervisors and Sheriff’s Department to implement at their discretion, according to officials.

“We know law enforcement on school campuses looks different across the county,” Forbes said at last week’s discussion, adding that some school districts contract with the Sheriff’s Department, some have their own police force and some contract with retired officers. 

“The critical component has to be training,” Forbes said, “because students can show up to campuses with multiple traumas that need to be addressed rather than policed.  

“I do believe that there is a role for law enforcement on our school campuses, but I do believe that we really need to come to the table and define that role,” Forbes added. 

At the beginning of the year, the commission announced it would be looking at the topic again in response to reports, in particular from the Antelope Valley area, that students of color were being stopped at a rate much higher than other students by law enforcement officers on campus. 

Antelope Valley High teacher Barron Gardner pointed out concerns with the current status of the program that included questions about the data being collected, the process for any sort of recourse for if and when a student does have an issue and the fact that a deputy’s role is not often clearly defined for a campus in terms of the protocols that teachers should use for when to engage officers. 

“Deputies should never be involved in campus discipline that would otherwise be the purview of teachers and administrators,” Gardner said, a point on which everyone on the panel, including Rudy Perez, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, seemed to agree. 

“Cops should never be involved in a discipline aspect on campus,” Perez said, adding that law enforcement officers have a role in campus security as part of an “ecosystem” that coexists with the mental health worker, the teacher and the school administrator. 

Locally, school districts have made attempts in the past to increase the presence of deputies on SCV campuses. Two obstacles that districts have faced in making that happen, particularly of late, are shortages in funding in their budgets and available manpower with respect to the Sheriff’s Department. 

The cost for one deputy initially, according to a local school official on background, was quoted to one local district as approximately $250,000 the first year, which also included the purchase of the patrol car, and then approximately $150,000 in subsequent years to cover the cost of the school deputy’s salary and benefits. 

All three talks are now available on the commission’s website: Talk 1, youtube.com/watch?v=roo9PrizqbE; Talk 2, youtube.com/watch?v=6XcN57KQ1-M and Talk 3, youtube.com/watch?v=0mc_w-5A2J8.  

The deadline for anyone to submit a comment, which can be done on the Civilian Oversight Commission’s website, is Monday. Comments can be submitted here: https://tinyurl.com/p7cutj7n

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