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Calif. school board votes to bring back school resource officers

The officers were removed three months earlier amid calls to divert funding to other services

Pomona Unified School District

Pomona Unified School District

By Javier Rojas
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Calif.

POMONA, Calif. — Pomona Unified school board members have voted unanimously to bring police back to campuses, three months after they removed law enforcement from school grounds.

During a special meeting Wednesday, Oct. 27, the board approved a service agreement with the Pomona Police Department to employ two campus safety resource officers, as they are known. Superintendent Richard Martinez said the district is “looking at reimagining and retooling” the role of police in the school system.

Under the agreement, school police will be required to receive ongoing training through the Pomona Unified School District on topics such as restorative justice, trauma-informed practices, de-escalation, diversity, inclusion and equity, Martinez said. Police officers will also perform their duties in plain clothes, he added.

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Meanwhile, PUSD will request quarterly reports summarizing data and metrics on referrals made by campus police, incidents resolved without arrest — those with a parent or guardian present and those without — and the total number of arrests made. The school district is asking campus police to adhere to Senate Bill 203, which requires that during and before an interrogation of a minor they be able to speak with legal counsel.

With community members previously raising issues on mental health needs for students, Martinez also announced Tri-City Mental Health will be supporting the district’s efforts. Through a planning grant, a crisis response team will be available for community youth and their families once a plan is submitted to the state, said Toni Navarro, the agency’s executive director.

With the board’s vote, the agreement will come to the Pomona City Council to consider at a meeting on Nov. 15, Martinez said.

School police officers were not included in the 2021-22 PUSD budget, the district said, after parents and students called for more investment in resources such as mental health services. The disruption of the ongoing pandemic and calls for social justice presented an opportunity for the district, which serves Pomona and Diamond Bar, to make “impactful changes,” Martinez previously said.

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Some who spoke at the meeting Wednesday advocated for even more mental health support instead of putting financial resources toward law enforcement.

Pomona High School substitute teacher Pablo Padilla said in speaking to students, many are still dealing with the aftermath of an Oct. 15 shooting near the school where one person was injured. Padilla said increasing mental health services would go a long way in helping students in the classroom.

“We need different types of help. Half of the students seem traumatized about the incident, the other half are just numb to it,” Padilla said. “It’s very daunting being in my position because I do care about the district, it’s my community and I want to make sure things get better.”

Board member Adrienne Konigar-Macklin acknowledged calls for more resources for mental health but said student safety is also a priority.

“I do not believe in a police state for students. I do not believe students should be in a containment center, but I do believe in the safety of students,” Konigar-Macklin said at the meeting. “What I’m hearing tonight is there’s a need for greater mental health services done in a different way, perhaps. But I don’t think that should come at the expense of our students.”

As a board member who grew up in Pomona, Arturo Jimenez said he could relate to students’ concerns about the role of police on campuses. Nevertheless, he hopes the district can push forward with both safety and support of students in mind.

“I too had negative experiences when I was a young man. But I also heard from our students, that they felt that they needed safety in the schools in terms of having a police officer,” Jimenez said. “The future can be different if we wish to make it so.”

The board’s vote was a disappointment for members of Gente Organizada, a Pomona social action group that applauded the district’s decision to remove officers from schools following its four-year campaign to end the program. The group said Thursday that PUSD rushed the item by announcing the meeting just 24 hours prior.

“We feel that PUSD leaders were irresponsible in their actions, ignoring research and refusing to analyze the impact of (school resource officers and Pomona Police Department) on Pomona youth in years past,” the organization said in a statement. “Our community deserves better from our leadership. It is our hope that PUSD takes the necessary steps to truly invest in restorative justice alternatives and away from punitive strategies that harm our kids.”

(c)2021 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.)