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Criminal Justice

Just Months After Removing Police From Schools, Pomona To Bring Officers Back To Campuses

A laptop is open and displays a grid of people on a remote conference call. Overlaid on the image of the laptop is a photo of a building with a sign reading "Pomona City Hall." Behind the laptop image is a building with a sign that reads "Pomona High School." In the top right, there is a small photo of some foliage and a moon in the daytime sky.
On Nov. 15, the Pomona City Council voted to resume using local police in its schools.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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Pomona turned heads this summer when its public school district left out school police services from its 2021-22 budget.

But after more than three hours of public comment and debate stretching late into Monday night, the Pomona City Council voted 5-1 to approve a new contract between the Pomona school district and the Pomona Police Department that will place two school resource officers back on high school campuses.

Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval, who voted yes on the contract, said he would “never, ever, ever” create a culture that encouraged a school-to-prison pipeline.

“The last thing we want to see is our children locked up in jail,” he said.

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But experts say research shows having police on campus leads to more student arrests -- particularly of students of color.

“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,” said Councilmember John Nolte, the lone dissenting vote.

But Pomona school officials said unrest in schools as kids returned to in-person classes this fall turned into a torrent of calls to the police, and a shooting in October outside Pomona High School that injured a 12-year-old prompted an outcry from parent and a swift reversal of the ground-breaking measure.

The contract will cover two officers at an annual cost to the district of about $195,000 per officer through June 30, 2023. The officers will receive training on topics like implicit bias, restorative justice and trauma informed practices, and the city will be required to report quarterly data to the school district on their activity.

“What changed? What happened?” Vice Mayor Robert Torres asked PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez, referencing the previous budget that did not include school police.

Martinez replied that the school district did not refer to the previous absence of police funding as “defunding.” Rather, the focus was on the return to in-person school. “We would revisit the contract at a later date,” Martinez said.

In response to community concerns about potential police harassment and the improper detention of students on campus, the council agreed to add additional language to the contract about police requirements, state law and best practices when dealing with juveniles.

There is a row of brick buildings in what looks like a small-town downtown area. A few cars and some foliage are silhouetted in the foreground.
Last summer, Pomona’s school district left out school police services from its 2021-22 budget. Less than five months later, the landscape of Pomona’s public schools appear much different.
(Alborz Kamalizad

‘Do The Right Thing’

Most people who called into Monday’s council meeting were opposed to the contract. One former student, Christopher Heredia, said he suffered severe bullying as a Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) student, and acted out. He said he needed to speak to a psychologist, and “instead what I got was handcuffs.”

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“I asked [the PUSD school board members] if their job was a joke to them … that is what it feels like,” said student Samantha Zavela-Angulo, who was concerned that the board did not see data on school resource officers before approving the contract at a special meeting on Oct. 27.

"It is two officers. It’s not 41 officers," said PUSD Superintendent Richard Martinez.

"I would love to get to that place where our community doesn't need a police department," he said. But right now, police are needed to make students feel safe, Martinez said.

A parent who identified herself as María Elena but did not provide her last name told the council a community group had collected about 300 signatures in support of police on campus. 'We are very concerned about the safety of our children," she said in Spanish.

“Do the right thing for the community,” said another supporter, Virginia Madrigal, who referred to the violence of the 80’s and 90’s as well as recent homicides in the city.

But many students said school police did not make them feel safe.

‘A New Contract Would Be Disastrous’

“Creating a new contract would be disastrous,” said Victor Leung, director of education equity at the ACLU of Southern California. He called school resource officers “a waste of resources.”

Leung pointed to the recent fatal shooting of 18-year old Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez by a school safety officer employed with the Long Beach Unified School District, as well as thebody slamming of 16-year-old Lancaster High School student MiKayla Robinson by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy in August.

A KPCC/LAist and ProPublica investigation found L.A. Sheriff’s deputies have disproportionately detained and cited Black teens on public school campuses in Lancaster. Data from 2019 showed Black teenagers accounted for 60% of the deputy contacts on campuses but made up only about 20% of the enrollment in those schools.

Pomona Police Chief Michael Ellis said the department had received 313 calls from Pomona schools since Aug. 1. “That’s quite the workload,” he said, adding that the department has been receiving on average around 20-25 calls per week.

In a phone call Tuesday, Ellis told us the new school resource officers will wear “soft uniforms” like a polo shirt, but drive the standard black and white from campus to campus. Officers won’t be stationed on campuses — there won’t even be an office for them.

“Their job is not to roam the halls and police the halls,” he said.

Ellis said based on his experiences, he believes police on campus make school safer, pointing to instances when officers defused volatile situations. “But I can’t put stats in front of you and quantify it,” he said.

A record of calls for service from the department obtained through a public records request by the Pomona-based nonprofit Gente Organizada also shows that police were called by PUSD school staff over 1,700 times between Jan. 2018 and Jan. 2021.

“This contract was approved by our school board without any analysis of the past impact of cops in schools” said Jesus Sanchez, Gente Organizada’s co-founder.

Less than five months ago, the landscape of Pomona’s public schools appeared much different.

A boy with dark hair sits on the corner of a grey couch. Behind him is a dark globe, a hanging plant, and cloth ribbons. Hand-painted words and slogans like "unity," "class war," "decolonize," and "live, love, laugh and destroy systems of oppression" are legible on the ribbons.
Andrew Miron of Gente Organizada headquarters celebrated last summer's decision to stop paying for school police.
(Alborz Kamalizad

‘‘That Victory Was Just Awesome’

In June, Arleen “Yaz” Alonso and Andrew Miron celebrated with tacos after the PUSD board approved a 2021-22 budget that did not include funding for police officers on campuses.

The young community organizers with Gente Organizada savored the food and the victory alongside PUSD students after four years of advocacy to end the contract with the police.

“Hearing that victory was just awesome,” recalled Alonso, the group’s director of youth organizing. “It was years of research and just collecting information that paid off,” said Miron, a recent graduate of Diamond Ranch High School.

Gente Organizada releaseda report in August that found over 22% of youth arrested were Black, despite making up less than 6% of Pomona’s population. Black and Latino female youth were also disproportionately arrested, according to the report.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest public school district in the country, decided in February to cut funding for campus policing by one-third. The Claremont Unified School District voted in July to remove school resource officers from three campuses starting in fall 2022.

School districts in Denver, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, have decided to end or scale back contracts with law enforcement.

A young girls sits in front of a computer at a desk. She wears a shirt that reads "gente de pomonoa." On the wall around her computer various photos and signs are on display. On the desk, there is a sign that reads "Chingona vibes only!"
Arleen “Yaz” Alonso of Gente Organizada calls the news of Pomona High School's new contract with police “disorienting.”
(Alborz Kamalizad

‘That Took Us By Surprise’

Speaking from their headquarters where they host meetings with PUSD students, Alonso and Miron said they were turning their attention to increasing funding for mental health services on campus when they heard chatter of a new police contract.

“That took us by surprise,” Miron said, adding that they weren’t given information on why the contract was necessary when they met with school and city officials. “The only justification we would get, basically, is the safety of the students,” he said.

The news of a new contract was “disorienting,” Alonso said, calling it a “turning point” in how Pomona defines public safety.

She said Pomona students and the school community had been metaphorically fed too much of the same flavor of ice cream.

“You keep having one ice cream flavor ... they’re gonna keep choosing that one ice cream flavor because nothing else has been introduced,” Alonso said. “No other form of safety has been introduced in the community.”

‘Like Another Safety Blanket’

Two young girls pose for the camera in front of a building with a sign that reads "Pomona High School." The girl on the left has pink hair, wears a mask, and a bandana. The girl on the right has her mask pulled down and smiles.
Pomona High School students Chriss, 15, and Jasmine Diaz, 14, were close enough to hear the shooting outside their school that injured a 12-year-old on October 15.
(Alborz Kamalizad

Outside Pomona High School last Friday afternoon, students streamed out of the gates onto the sidewalk and into the idling vehicles of parents and family members.

Many supported having police on campus, recalling the Oct. 15 shooting in which a 12-year-old was injured by glass and debris.

“We didn’t know what it was,” said Chriss, a 15-year-old sophomore who declined to provide her last name. She said she was at the bus stop around the corner when the shooting occurred. “Not nice,” Chriss said.

Her friend, 14-year-old freshman Jasmine Diaz, said she also was nearby when she heard the gunshots. “I’ve been a little bit more on edge because of it,” she said.

“It’s just like another safety blanket, you know?” she said of school resource officers.

At the same time, the students didn't expect the police to change everything. “It’s nice to have some extra bodies around just to separate things, but if things are going to happen, people are going to find a way to make them happen if they really want to,” Chriss said.

Parents picking up their students were also supportive of having police on campus.

A man in reflective sunglasses and red sleeveless t-shirt sits inside a white care and smiles at the camera.
Long, a parent of two Pomona High School students, waits outside school during pickup.
(Alborz Kamalizad

“With the school police here, I think none of that would have happened,” said Long, a parent who did not provide his last name. He said he has two sons at the school whom he had picked up right before the shooting.

Police would make school safer, Long said. “We are in the ‘neighborhood,’” he said, laughing. “I’m all for it.”

But a few students also expressed concern about the impending arrival of school police.

“Something bad is probably going to happen” between an officer and a student, said 14-year-old freshman Gabriel Garcia.

“It’s just annoying, especially if they’re gonna have weapons,” said 16-year-old sophomore Ashley Torres. “If anything, I feel unsafe rather than being safe, which is the whole point.”

“I do feel safer, but I think it’s unnecessary,” said Torres' 17-year-old brother David, a senior.

“If something’s gonna happen, it’s still gonna happen,” he said.

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.