Dr. David Turner joins parents, students and activists with the Police Free LAUSD School Coalition to demand that school police are defunded during a press conference at the Horace Mann UCLA Community School in Los Angeles on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.
(Photo by Axel Koester, Contributing Photographer)
In 2020 the LAUSD School Board voted to slash the school police budget by 35% percent and invest in community-based alternatives to policing. But now, three years later, very few of these initiatives have materialized and community members are growing impatient.
On June 13, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education passed a resolution outlining strategies to speed up the implementation of community-based safety programs. The board allocated $15 million to fund these programs in its 2020-2021 budget, but according to the resolution much of this money remains unspent.
Community safety programs may include services to support mental health and counseling, peaceful conflict mediation, substance use prevention and gang prevention. They also include safe passage programs, which seek to ensure that students’ routes to and from school are clear of danger from cars, crime and harassment.
“It (the resolution) is really about making good on the board’s previous commitment to pursue community-based safety alternatives,” said Boardmember Kelly Gonez, who co-authored the resolution. “We know that there’s a lot more work to be done.”
A report released by the Police Free LAUSD Coalition in March found that none of the $15 million dedicated to community-based safety programs was spent in the 2021 to 2022 school year. And as of March, the 53 schools that received the greatest proportion of funding had only spent or committed 18% of their budgets for safety programs in the 2022 to 2023 school year.
In addition, while LAUSD has established 27 safe passage programs, only nine are currently very active, said Boardmember Tanya Franklin-Ortiz in the June 13 meeting.
“I have been followed, sexually harassed and even nearby robbed all while two minutes away from my school,” said Tre’niece Thomas, a student at Drew Magnet High School in Watts, during the board meeting. “(Police) officers make children feel uncomfortable, but we still need protection, which is why the safe passage program is the right thing.”
Much of the pressure to cut the police budget came from community members and advocates who believe that police officers have a negative effect on students’ wellbeing and disproportionately target and traumatize students of color.
These advocates believe–and the School Board concurs–that community organizations can offer a powerful alternative to contact with law enforcement, because they have an intimate understanding of neighborhood issues and trust among community members.
“Students have spoke out about how unsafe they feel with school police,” said Mattisse Anderson, an incoming 12th grade student at Hamilton High School, during the board meeting. “We’re asking that you please recognize us and do the right thing, which is voting yes on safe passage (programs) and not pouring more money into school police and the criminalization of students of color.”
Not everyone is on board with this shift in safety tactics and some parents have been calling for a greater police presence at schools.
This school year there have been a number of safety incidents on and around LAUSD campuses including multiple suspected Fentanyl overdoses, a fatal stabbing and a fatal traffic collision.
“I feel that school safety has worsened, because it’s easier to introduce drugs on campus. Crime has increased,” said LAUSD parent Olivia Reyes, member of Latino parent group Our Voice, in a written statement. “It’s important to reinstate Los Angeles School Police funding so that schools remain safe and free of any kind of crime.”
The resolution itself steers clear of the debate on defunding or refunding the police and instead focuses on practical measures that can assist with the implementation of community-based safety programs.
This includes outreach to organizations that may be good community partners as well as identifying the barriers that have prevented organizations from partnering with the district thus far.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I hear from folks… how difficult it is working with this district, that they’re either not getting a response or haven’t been paid, that they were rejected (from working with the district) and they don’t know why,” said Boardmember Nick Melvoin. “I appreciate that this concern is addressed in the resolution.”
The resolution also calls for the district to provide a detailed report on the implementation of community-based safety programs and recommendations for improvement by May 2024. A less comprehensive progress update is expected by January 2024.