For Advocates, $25 Million Cut To LAUSD Police Is Just The First Step. For Others, It's Already Too Much.
It's been an eventful week at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
After a 13-hour marathon meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Education voted 4-3 to reduce the $70 million school police budget by $25 million, or about 35%. Less than 24 hours later, the district's police department chief, Todd Chamberlain -- who was appointed to the job in November -- announced his resignation.
Chamberlain said the cuts would mean 65 officers would lose their jobs, and many more hours would be reduced. (On Thursday, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced deputy chief Leslie Ramirez will replace Chamberlain as interim chief. She'll oversee the transition to a reduced force.)
For advocates who have been calling to reform or replace school police, the 35% cut is the first of many steps toward eliminating the police force. Tuesday night's vote redirects $25 million from the force to support programs such as counseling, starting at schools with large African American enrollment.
For school police and their supporters, the reduction already goes too far.
"I have been placed in a position that makes my ability to effectively, professionally and safely impact those groups unachievable," Chamberlain wrote in a statement. "In good conscience, and in fear for safety and well-being of those I serve, I cannot support modifications to my position, the organization and most importantly, the community (students, staff and families) that I believe will be detrimental and potentially life-threatening."
We've collected more reactions from around the school community below.
If you have experiences with or information about school police that you would like to share with us, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'AN ENORMOUS STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION'
Asia Bryant, a recent graduate of Hamilton High School and a student organizer with the advocacy group, Students Deserve, called the budget cut "an enormous step in the right direction."
Students Deserve and the powerful teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles, initially called for completely defunding the police force, then supported a gradual cut proposed last week by board member Mónica García, then ultimately rallied behind a 50% cut also put forward this week by García.
The final cut that passed the board, 4-3, is about 35% of the school police budget.
"Even though it's still not 50 [percent], it's still a partial win for us because we know that our work is working and it's paying off, and people are starting to pay attention," Bryant said.
I was hoping for a 50% cut, but this is a win and I’m proud of the youth/community for making it happen. This paves the way for greater learner wellbeing and achievement. I look fwd to one day being able to send my kid to an LAUSD school that is safe, police-free & equitable— Lyka Sethi (@lsethi) July 1, 2020
The union representing LAUSD teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, joined Students Deserve, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles, and dozens of other organizations and advocates in support of defunding the school police force.
UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz said over the past couple of weeks, the membership has had "a robust and respectful" debate about the pros and cons of school police. Ultimately, the union's House of Representatives voted 154-56 to support eliminating the police force.
"At the end of the day, if we're really talking about keeping the students at the center of every single thing we do, it means that we have to get it right for our babies," she said. "We have to get this right."
Myart-Cruz said she was disappointed when the board met on June 23 and considered three resolutions concerning school police, but was unable to pass any of them. But she is pleased with the $25 million cut that passed Tuesday after hours of discussion.
"We can't let up," Myart-Cruz added. "I think we have to keep fighting."
We’re on our way to ridding our schools of police and to investing in what actually makes our students safe: counselors, transformative justice practices, school social workers, nurses...#DefundThePolice#ReimaginePublicSafety #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/qTf9LfU94o— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) July 1, 2020
More than 70 organizations signed a letter in support of defunding the school police by 50%.
One of them was the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition.
"This is certainly a step in the right direction," said David Turner, the organization's manager, in a statement shared by the district. "Our budgets are a reflection of our values, and it's about time that the LAUSD budget begins to reflect the will of the people and youth who have been the most negatively impacted by school policies."
'WHAT IS THE DISTRICT'S OVERALL SAFETY PLAN...?'
While UTLA's House of Representatives supported defunding the police department, member Samantha Camerano wishes there had been more data before arriving at that decision.
Camerano is a psychiatric social worker who works alongside school police in "soft-uniform" to assess students "for homicidal and suicidal ideation" as part of the Mental Health Evaluation Team. She said working alongside those officers motivated her to speak up at the June 23 school board meeting, a first for her.
"I would love to have more [psychiatric social workers and pupil services and attendance counselors], more anyone mental health-related. That's what the school needs," she said. "I just didn't think it was going to be them-versus-us. I wanted it to be together."
Camerano said she's glad the cut was not more substantial, but still worries that the 35% reduction effective this upcoming school year will impact efforts to expand the Mental Health Evaluation Team.
Associated Administrators of Los Angeles president Juan Flecha said in an email that he, too, has questions about how the reduction will work, citing his experiences as a principal.
"What is the District's overall safety plan if school communities can not count on LASPD to provide tactical, life-saving support," he wrote. "How can the District in good conscience create such a horrendous liability for school-based administrators and worsen working conditions that are already ridiculously atrocious?"
AALA was one of the unions that signed a letter in support of the school police.
'HOLD THIS TASK FORCE ACCOUNTABLE'
Near the end of the 13-hour-long board meeting on Tuesday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner expressed frustration that the board made the cut before his task force on school police could report its findings.
"This is unusual in my experience, to be given the answer before the work was done to try to look at how the problem might be addressed," he said.
Beutner was unavailable for further comment after the reduction was passed by the board.
Isaac Bryan, executive director of the UCLA Black Policy Project, is a member of that task force, and was one of the authors of a 2018 report by the UCLA Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies' Million Dollar Hoods project that looked at school police interactions with students.
"The community pressure can't die down. It has to stay strong, and it has to hold this task force accountable, me included," Bryan said. "I'm going to do everything that I can to continue to think about this in a thoughtful way. That includes the voices of all stakeholders, but centers the voices of young people and those who have been adversely impacted by bad policies."
The group is expected to share its findings in August.
WE LOVE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS
- LAUSD Cuts School Police -- A Major Victory For Activists -- But Mostly Maintains Status Quo In Its Budget For Now
- LAUSD Board Considered Three Resolutions To Reform School Police. None Of Them Passed
- Why Advocates Want Police Out Of LAUSD Schools
- In Their Own Words: Students Share Lessons Learned From Organizing And Protesting