Following the death of George Floyd last year at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, teachers’ unions and school districts across the country decided to get rid of school cops. In June 2020, for example, the United Teachers of Los Angeles passed a motion to replace police with counselors and mental health programs. “Police presence in schools,” the union said, “leads to negative outcomes for Black and Brown students, who are arrested and disciplined at higher rates than their peers.”
This past February, the L.A. Unified School District board apparently agreed, voting 5–2 to cut 133 school cops, or about 40 percent of the total. The district now relies on guidance counselors, social workers, restorative-justice advisers, and “climate coaches,” who employ de-escalation techniques to quell disturbances. Police will also no longer patrol campuses, and will be called upon to respond in-person only during emergencies. George McKenna, the only black L.A. school board member, protested the move. “The school police were never a danger to the students,” he said. “Are you under the assumption that there are no Crips, no Bloods, no gangs out there, and we’re going to do this with social workers?”
Los Angeles isn’t the only city in California to give school cops the boot. Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Pomona have done the same. Caroline Lucas, a youth organizer who pushed for the removal of officers at her school, Pomona High, sums up the current outlook. “For me, it means that leaders can experiment with what transformative activists have been trying to do.”
Like Dr. Frankenstein, many school districts have since learned that not all experiments turn out favorably. Pomona got a wakeup call when a shooting near its high school left a 12-year-old injured by broken glass and debris. In a unanimous vote, the school board brought back the police after a four-month hiatus, stating that student safety is paramount. Los Angeles schools have also faced rising violence since police were cut back. Using data from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, CBS News reports that 108 assaults took place between August and October of this year, with 16 students requiring hospitalization. Police sources add that 44 weapons were recovered, including five handguns and 32 knives. On November 18, in school-police-free Sacramento, several teachers were injured while trying to quell a student brawl. The Sacramento Police Department had to be called in to restore order.
Across the country, kids are stressed and are acting out. Per the Washington Post, “The National Association of School Resource Officers reports that this year, from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, there were 97 reported gun-related incidents in schools. During the same span in 2019, there were 29.” The Post also reports: “Everytown for Gun Safety, a lobby group for gun restrictions, tallies 56 instances of gunfire on school grounds in August and September of 2021. That is higher for those two months than any year since the group began tracking incidents in 2013, and more than double the previous high of 22 in 2019. Tragically, it also found record numbers of deaths, at eight, and injuries, with 35.” While kicking cops off campus is generally a bad idea, it is especially wrongheaded when students are returning to campus after extended (and psychologically damaging) Covid-related shutdowns.
In light of the recent crime uptick, police defunders’ arguments are more specious than ever. “School-Based Cops Reduce Campus Violence—But at a Steep Cost, Especially for Black Students,” claims an article in The 74, an education news site. The story argues that, while cops do indeed make campuses safer, their presence “increases the number of students facing suspensions, expulsions and arrests, particularly if they are Black.” Yet students are typically forced to attend the public school in their immediate neighborhood. Since ethnic groups tend to gravitate together, most students at a given school are of the same ethnicity. Thus, where the perpetrator of a crime in school is black, the victim is likely to be black as well. Somehow this reality is rarely included in such narratives.
It’s worth noting that teachers don’t want cops taken out of schools. In a recent Heritage Foundation survey, only 7 percent of teachers responded affirmatively to the question, “Do you think defunding school resource officers will make schools safer?” Additionally, an EdWeek Research Center poll from 2020 found that only 20 percent of teachers, principals, and district leaders completely or partly agreed that armed police officers should be eliminated from public schools.
Parents aren’t fond of the idea, either. In Los Angeles, a district-commissioned survey found that 72 percent of Asian-American and Pacific Islander parents, 67 percent of Hispanic parents, 54 percent of white parents, and 50 percent of black parents agreed that a police presence makes schools safer.
Eliminating or severely cutting back school police is dangerous to kids and adults alike. School districts in California are learning this the hard way—at the expense of the children they’re entrusted to protect.
Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.