Parents, students and activists gather in front of Mann UCLA Community School to call for the end of school police in LAUSD. (Photo Courtesy of Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition)

A report by the Police Free LAUSD Coalition was recently released, detailing a five-point plan to invest in the holistic well-being of all students and redirect all funding away from the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASP). They maintain that police on school campuses does not create a safe environment.  

The coalition that includes ACLU SoCal, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, Social Justice Learning Institute and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and others released a report Tuesday, Jan. 31,  titled “From Criminalization to Education: A Community Vision for Safe Schools in LAUSD.”

The report includes responses from over 200 participants in 20 focus groups, including students, parents, community members and educators, on what they believe makes a safe school. From their responses, five common themes were found:

— A safe school partners with and supports families in their local community;

— It has shared decision-making power with parents, students, teachers and the community;

— It supports holistic academic achievement;

— It focuses on the well-being of the “whole” student; and,

— A safe school is culturally attuned to the community.

In addition, the proliferation of school police and the adoption of punitive zero tolerance policies, the report said, led to the over-incarceration of youth. It suggests that LAUSD schools can never be safe or have a strong climate until the LASP is “completely eliminated.”

David Turner III is one of the co-authors of the report. He is with the Million Dollar Hoods Project at UCLA, which is part of the coalition, and an assistant professor of social welfare at the university.

While the data collecting and editing of the report has been in the works for the past two and a half years, Turner explained it’s also the culmination of decades of work to decriminalize schools in LAUSD and to humanize education.

“We wanted to make sure that we were able to uplift the community’s voice about how they safe schools, and also uplift some alternatives to policing that people can adopt today,” Turner said.

He explained that one of the things the coalition has organized around is that policing in schools does not make people feel safe; rather, it puts students and community members in danger. He pointed to the challenges communities of color, specifically Black communities, have with the police and sheriffs, and said that school policing is an extension of the community policing people are already feeling.

In different surveys by other coalitions, Turner said, “What we’ve found is that students in the survey response are consistently saying that police on their campuses harmed them, that police on their campuses are the ones who are helping to exacerbate negative school climates.”

Turner brought up how pepper spray has been utilized in schools. He said when fights would occur, school police would pepper spray entire crowds rather than break up the altercation.

When school police did try to break up altercations, they could end up doing more harm than good. Turner recounted the 2021 incident in Long Beach when a school police officer, who was trying to intervene in an altercation, shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old girl.

“Not only do we have these egregious examples, but we have the data to suggest that Black students in particular, boys and men of color more broadly, are being drastically impacted by school policing, and that absolutely needs to change,” Turner said. “And the only way it can change is if we reimagine how we keep our schools safe. … We need to remove the idea that police equal safety.”

Turner said that the first step has already been taken in addressing this situation. In 2020, there was a 35 percent cut to the school police budget, which went directly into the Black Student Achievement Plan. He mentioned that investments for other races, like Latinx or Native American students, need to be carefully planned so as not to disconnect what’s happening in schools with their communities.

The report also highlights different alternatives that schools could take to keep their students safe. One alternative Turner talked about was Dads on Duty, a volunteer-run organization formed to prevent fights in a Louisiana high school. Since the group’s formation in 2021, fights on campus have reportedly declined drastically. Turner attributed the organization’s success to the fact that the fathers understood both the students and the community.

He mentioned that LAUSD has a position called a school climate advocate, which supports a positive school culture through conflict-resolution techniques and programs that support social and emotional nonacademic skills. This position, Turner said, could have a similar effect that a group like Dads on Duty has had, but more money needs to be invested in it.

Turner emphasized that this report reflects the communities that attend LAUSD schools and reiterated the importance of looking for alternatives to school police and making the right investments to improve school climate on district campuses. He hopes that this report will be the step to get those investments.

“I think we’ve seen time and time again that policing is not the answer for [keeping schools safe]. Whether you’re looking at the extreme cases like Uvalde, Texas, and what happened there … we need to create the tools and the strategies and the investments and make sure that we have those tools and to take away the things that are harming our communities, which we named as over policing.”