Trending Topics

Police to return to schools 4 months after Calif. district removed them

The reversal came after an October shooting near a high school that wounded one person

school bus generic

By Javier Rojas
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Calif.

POMONA, Calif. — Four months after Pomona Unified officials removed law enforcement from schools, police are heading back to campuses after a majority of city leaders voted Monday, Nov. 15, in support of the move.

In a 5-1 vote, the Pomona City Council approved a service agreement with the school district to employ two campus safety resource officers, as they are known, on high school campuses. The contract will cost the school district about $195,000 per officer and will run through June 30, 2023.

The council’s move follows a unanimous vote by the school board to bring Pomona police back to school grounds, a decision that came in the aftermath of a mid-October shooting near a high school that wounded one person.

The shooting and an increase in classroom disruptions as students returned to in-person instruction this fall, school board members said, led it to reverse its June decision to withdraw campus safety officers. Superintendent Richard Martinez said Monday that the district always planned to “revisit the (police) contract at a later date” once schools had safely reopened.

School police officers were not included in the current 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.

Under the agreement with the city, police at the schools 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 has previously said. Police officers will perform their duties in plain clothes.

[RELATED: The first five things an SRO should do]

In a statement Tuesday, Nov. 16, the Pomona Police Department reaffirmed its commitment to these undertakings. The department also is looking “forward to continuing and building a positive working relationship with the Pomona Unified School District, staff, students, and administrators,” according to the statement.

PUSD said it will request quarterly reports summarizing 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 allows a minor to speak with legal counsel during and before an interrogation.

While officers are expected to return to schools in December, they won’t be stationed on campuses or have an office, Pomona police said.

Martinez said Tuesday the district’s decision “centered on the protection and safety of PUSD students” and that school administrators “are responsible for the overall well-being of all students” in their care.

Many who voiced their opposition to school police have said resources should be used for mental health services instead. Martinez said safety services can co-exist with additional mental health resources and support.

“Student safety and mental health go hand-in-hand,” Martinez said. “Here at PUSD, we are redeploying resources in unprecedented ways to support and care for the whole child after an extremely disruptive pandemic.”

The district previously announced that Tri-City Mental Health will support its efforts to provide support services for students.

Additionally, the city and PUSD will form a working group with other community stakeholders to create “a program that best fits our community and the Pomona Resource Officer Program,” according to the Police Department.

Mayor Tim Sandoval said he hopes to establish the working group by the end of the current school year.

“I believe we’re in the process of creating our own model,” Sandoval said Monday.

The decision to bring police officers to campus has become a flashpoint in the community, with activists and some students saying officers don’t address the issues that cause violence and others, including parents and members of Associated Pomona Teachers, arguing that having a police presence on campus deters crime.

[RELATED: Back to school: The challenges SROs face as children return to the classroom]

Since Aug. 1, the Police Department has received 313 calls from local schools. That has equated to an average of 20 to 25 calls per week for the department, police Chief Michael Ellis said Monday.

Councilmember John Nolte was the sole dissenting vote Monday. Nolte, a former teacher, said he could not support having armed police officers on school campuses.

“Schools essentially are addicted to this service, which is not good for them or for their students, but they feel safe when it’s there,” Nolte said.

Some who spoke Monday against bringing campus police back asked for data that would support that move.

“No evidence has been brought forward from the district or city that shows cops ensure safety,” said Jesus Sanchez, co-founder and executive director of Gente Organizada, a Pomona social action group that applauded the district’s June decision to remove officers from schools following its four-year campaign to end the program.

On Monday, the nonprofit released a record of calls for service from the Pomona police department it obtained through a public records request. The data shows that police were called by PUSD staff 1,711 times between January 2018 and January 2021.

“Placing police in schools is a waste of resources,” said Victor Leung, director of education equity at the ACLU of Southern California.

The recent fatal shooting of an 18-year-old woman by a school resource officer at Long Beach Unified School District raises questions about the practice of having police on school grounds, Leung said, as does the body slamming of a 16-year-old Black student at Lancaster High School by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in August.

In June, PUSD joined Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified school districts in removing some or all of its school resource officers. Since then, there have been some efforts by LAUSD board members to give principals the authority to hire police for individual campuses. Community members in Oakland, meanwhile, were angered by a proposal to eliminate a police mentorship program for young Black students.

In November 2020, the Fremont Unified School District voted to discontinue its school resource officer program, only to restore the program in May.

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