LAUSD Superintendent Wants School Police Ban On Pepper Spray And Controversial Neck Hold

A L.A. School Police vehicle parked outside of Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts on the first day of school, August 20, 2019. (Carla Javier/KPCC)

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No more use of pepper spray or controversial carotid holds — that's Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner's recommendation for the district's police force to the board of education, announced in his weekly update to the school community.

The recommendation comes amid the ongoing debate over the future of school police on LAUSD campuses. Student activists and the union representing LAUSD teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, are calling for eliminating school police, while the unions representing school officers and administrators are pushing back.

Beutner dedicated much of his Monday remarks to the topic of policing.

"It should be clear to all in our nation there is much work to do if we are to create a just and equitable society," Beutner said in the video address. "Los Angeles Unified must take action and be part of the solution."


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Beutner called on the LAUSD school board to eliminate the use of pepper spray and the policy allowing carotid holds before the fall semester begins in August.

Here's a quick summary of Beutner's remarks and recommendations announced Monday.

CAROTID HOLD

The controversial maneuver involves placing pressure on the neck as a means of restraining an individual. According to the LA School Police Department policy manual, only officers who have received specific training are allowed to use it — and even then, the manual recommends avoiding its use on vulnerable people, including the elderly and children.

"Any individual who has had the carotid control hold applied, regardless of whether he/she was rendered unconscious, shall be promptly examined by paramedics or other qualified medical personnel," the manual explains.

The hold has been under scrutiny by government and law enforcement officials from the state to the city, my colleague Frank Stoltze explained last week.

In his remarks, Beutner said "school police have never fired a weapon on campus since they were formed in 1984," but he made no mention of how often the carotid restraint was applied.

We asked LAUSD and LA School Police for the number of incidents where LA School Police used the carotid hold in the past year but have yet to receive an answer.

PEPPER SPRAY

According to the LA School Police manual, use of oleoresin capsicum spray — also known as pepper spray — "may be considered for use as self-defense, as a method of defending others from the unlawful use of force of violence, and in some cases, as a method for compliance."

"OC spray should not, however, be used against individuals or groups who merely fail to disperse or do not reasonably appear to present a risk to the safety of officers or the public," the guidance continues.

Members of the grassroots group, Students Deserve, have told board members at previous meetings about multiple incidents in which Los Angeles School Police allegedly used pepper spray on students.

A LAUSD spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that from 2019 to this year, pepper spray was used eight times.

About a year ago, the Los Angeles County Probation Department began the process of ending the spray's use in juvenile camps and halls.

WHAT ABOUT DEFUNDING SCHOOL POLICE?

Beutner did not directly address calls to defund the district's police department, but he did say that the district will review the school police budget over the summer, along with the rest of the district's budget.

My colleague Kyle Stokes looked more closely into what it would take to disband LA School Police.

Students Deserve has planned a march calling for defunding LA School Police for Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, school police are circulating a form letter asking that officials "not pander to the political divisiveness of the United Teachers of Los Angeles Board of Directors and instead, send UTLA a strong message by retaining the Los Angeles School Police Department."

WHAT'S NEXT?

Beutner said he'll convene "a small group of community members with expertise in this area" to look more closely at policing on campus.

"They will look at what is needed to keep schools safe as well as what students need to feel free from stigma and feel they are a respected part of their school community," Beutner said Monday. "They will ask hard and uncomfortable questions and come up with concrete recommendations."

He said the group's mission is to make recommendations to the school board "as soon as possible."

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