Police At LA Schools Are Arresting And Citing Black Students At A Disproportionate Rate

Los Angeles School Police officers watch students lining up to pass through a security check point at Thomas Jefferson High School on April 21, 2005 (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

The L.A. School Police Department — which patrols LAUSD campuses and parts of the surrounding areas — is the largest force of its kind in the country. And it's taking enforcement actions against black students disproportionately, according to a new report from the Ralphe J. Bunche Center for African American Studies' Million Hoods Project.

From 2014 to 2017, 25 percent of the force's citations, arrests and diversions (for "minor" legal violations on school grounds) involved black students, according to UCLA researchers. That's despite the fact that LAUSD's student body is less than 10 percent black.

The racial disproportionality "disrupts opportunities to learn for black students," one of the researchers, Terry Allen, said in an email.

The project's finding wasn't surprising to 15-year-old Da'Ron George, who is black and used to attend Crenshaw High School. He said school police once took him out of his entrepreneurship class and searched him for pot, but didn't find any.

The incident affected his studies, said George.

"I practically missed the lesson [the teacher] was talking about, and I had to come back after school that same day and give up time after school just to get what he said," he said.

George said he still remembers noticing the number of officers around his old school.

"I don't know, it was just weird to see," he said. "Like they really gotta have that many police officers for us, like we're really animals or something."

(Courtesy Ralphe J. Bunche Center for African American Studies)

Another of the report's findings surprised researchers: One in four students arrested were either in elementary or middle school.

"I really thought this data would be full of high school students, and there were a number of high school students in there," said Isaac Bryan, public policy advisor at the Bunche Center and a member of the research team. "But to find that one in four was a child in middle school or younger, it was shocking."

Studying youth at school is especially important "because there's a lot of growing scholarship that any contact with the juvenile justice system increases the likelihood that you'll have contact with the adult penal system," Bryan said.

The school police's diversion program is for students ages 13-17 who commit "minor" legal violations on school grounds, according to the department. Those violations could include petty theft, vandalism or fighting, among other things.

Diversion uses a "non-punitive" enforcement model: The student, along with a counselor and the youth's parents or guardians, work up an "action plan" to improve behavior and academic performance.

From 2014-17, diversions accounted for 17 percent of the school police's enforcement actions.

The Los Angeles School Police Department, the largest force of its kind in the country, said it's still looking over the report, and sent a statement from Chief Steven Zipperman:

"Los Angeles Unified and the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) welcomes the partnership of independent researchers to evaluate data pertaining to school and student safety. The recently published report from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA - Million Dollar Hoods 'Policing our Students' - compiled four years of data provided by the LASPD. The report is currently being reviewed by our team. We will continue to utilize our reformed student-centered safety initiatives, and support the continued hard work performed by the men and women of the LASPD."

You can read the full report on Million Dollar Hoods' website.