California’s racialized policing reaches into every aspect of society. We rely on the police not just stop violent crimes, but to act as social workers, as marriage counselors, as nuisance abatement, and to enforce order in our schools. Bringing police into schools has brought disturbing trends like metal detectors and random searches of students, this criminalization of students has only one outcome: to feed the school to prison pipeline.
For years students and activists have called for an end to policing on campus.
Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD, doesn’t rely on LAPD to police campuses, instead they have their own police force. The LA School Police is the fifth largest police department in the county. There are 88 cities in LA, plus the County has the Sheriff’s Office, and out of all those cities LAUSD has one of the largest police forces.
As one would expect, the budget for LAUSD’s police force is large. Its operating budget in 2018 was $67,340,000. This $67 million includes a counter terrorism unit.
In 2014, this same police force caused widespread backlash when they announced their plan to buy surplus military equipment. Under an agreement with federal government, local law enforcement can buy or lease things like armored personnel carriers, assault rifles, and grenade launchers.
The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program. – Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2014
At the time, school police administrators argued that this equipment was needed in the event of terrorist attack or mass shooting. Ultimately they returned the grenade launchers, but kept 61 rifles and an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle).
Since being purchased, none of these have been used.
Random searches haven’t been shown to increase student safety.
LAUSD published Bulletin 5424.2 in October 2015. BUL-5424.2 authorizes and sets the process for conducting random searches of students from 6th grade to 12th grade. This covers not only LAUSD campuses but colocated magnet schools and charter schools as well.
To ensure an effective learning environment by maintaining a safe and secure campus, secondary schools are authorized to implement random metal detector searches. These are administrative searches. This policy does not include searches conducted by law enforcement. – BUL-5424.2
The process seems cold-heartedly straight forward: secondary schools must conduct daily random searches, students can only targeted based on an administrator’s suspicion that the student is violating policy and that the search will reveal evidence of these violations, and searches are supposed to random to avoid bias.
Additionally, each school is to conduct random locker searches, with a mandated minimum of 10 lockers searched everyday.
If a student is selected for a search they leave the classroom, are taken to an empty classroom or office, asked to empty their pockets and remove metal (belts, jewelry, etc), then they are wanded. If the wand detects metal, they are asked to make sure they removed all the metal from their person, then wanded again. If the wand alerts again, the search may escalate to pat downs. This is all in addition to the bags being searched.
Written in the exacting language of administration this policy only has one intended outcome: to criminalize students.
Administrators and teachers don’t need actual evidence of wrongdoing to order searches, only a belief. They don’t need a reason to search a locker, they are mandated to search.
What is even more curious about these policies is that they are separate from law enforcement searches. This isn’t a matter of a school knowing that there’s a threat and asking law enforcement to intervene. It is simply the school exercising power over the bodies of students, either by random occurrence or unevidenced belief.
If we organize our schools around the idea that students are criminals, then our administrators will see each student as a criminal waiting to be caught.
These policies are only feeding the school to prison pipeline.
LAUSD still treats students punatively: suspensions, expulsions, and arrests. These punishments have a negative impact on student achievement and can hold them back later in life.
Across California 280,000 students are suspended every year, meaning that they miss days or weeks on instruction. There is no way to make up for this lost classroom time. Students who may already be having problems in school are pushed further into crisis and further behind.
Around 6,500 students are expelled from California schools every year. This means that thousands of students are left without any kind of immediate educational opportunities. After being forced out of LAUSD they can move to charters or private schools, but there is no follow up despite the mandate that every child in California have access to a quality education.
Alternative education programs are lacking, leaving students with as little as 2 hours of instruction a week.
Tens of thousands of students are handed even more dire punishments: referrals to the police. In 2013-2014 22,246 students were referred to local police for their behavior. 9,540 were arrested. This means nearly 10,000 students in 1 year were put through the crucible of the juvenile criminal legal system. Arrests, court appearances, and possible incarceration do not lead to education.
There is hope, after years of fighting advocates are rolling back harmful policies.
Groups like Students Deserve and the Students Not Suspects coalition have been pushing back against random searches and criminalization for years. Finally, on Tuesday June 18th, 2019 the LAUSD Board voted 4 to 3 to end random searches. The student advisor also voted to end the searches, but their vote is not part of the official tally.
This will not end random searches immediately. Instead, random searches will be ended by July 2020, with a pilot program beginning in a handful of selected schools.
While this is still far short of the demands to end student criminalization it presents a bright step forward. California students will have to contend with armed police on campus, punitive administrations, and a criminal legal system that privileges incarceration over education.
Every student in California has the right to an education. Our schools need to be places that privilege the safety of every student, not institutions there to enforce law and order. As our police state creeps further and further into the classroom we will continue to see too many students left behind and forced out. Compassion, not enforcement, should be the guiding principle.