Why we should dissolve Oakland's school police department

At a press conference last week, Oakland's Black Organizing Project (BOP) reiterated their demand that the Oakland School Police Department be dissolved.

Oakland is the only school district in Alameda County with its own police department: schools in other districts rely on their city police departments in case of emergencies. The Oakland Schools Police Department has a chief, three sergeants, and eight officers.

According to KPIX, three Oakland city councilmembers and two school board members support BOP's demand to eliminate the department. I do as well, and if elected, I will work to help make it happen.

In the late 1990s, during the national wave of youth crime, Oakland's school police department was expanded and given autonomy from the city police force (Oakland Tribune, 2007). However, in recent years youth crime has plummeted in Alameda County, as it has across California, due to a variety of factors (SF Chronicle, 2019).

There is a full report by BOP available on their website, including a reference to a literature review by WestEd that says there is no evidence that having police officers in schools either reduces crime or makes students feel safer. On the other hand, restorative justice practices have been very successful in Oakland Unified at resolving serious conflicts between students, and reducing the need for suspensions and expulsions, which push students down a path toward dropping out and getting in more serious trouble.

At a time when the school district needs to make drastic cuts due to rising costs combined with stagnant funding from the state of California, it would be much better to make those cuts from the school police department, instead of the planned cuts to assistant principals and classified staff that often have deep relationships with students at their schools.

A search on Transparent California shows that in 2018, the dozen sworn personnel of the Oakland Schools Police Department cost the district over $1.4 million in salaries and benefits. Disbanding the department would allow the district to immediately reduce in half the cuts to assistant principals and classified staff at school sites for next year.

One of the main concerns among families, especially those who have children of color, is that eliminating the school police department might lead to Oakland city police (OPD) coming on campus more frequently, and that those officers might treat their students more harshly than schools officers do.

This is a very valid concern, but OPD is now subject to much stricter review by the new Oakland police commission (for example, two weeks ago the commission fired the chief of OPD). The police commission has the power to create policy on how OPD would respond to calls for service from schools, and how they would conduct themselves with students on campus. If elected, I will work with the police commission to create good policies that will refer as many calls for service at school campuses as possible to school security officers and other school staff who have been trained in restorative justice practices.

I talked with an administrator at one of Oakland's larger high schools, who said that at her school they have much less need of their assigned school police officer than they did in years past, since fights and gang activity have both declined dramatically. She said that these days, the biggest need for the officer is when students need to report crimes that happened off campus (such as domestic abuse at home, or an assault on the way to school). These crime reports would be better made to OPD staff anyway, ideally a non-uniformed liaison between the police and the school.

If elected, I will work with my colleagues on the board and with our city council to create better communication between our schools and city services, to reduce our need to rely on uniformed officers coming on campus.

 

 

 

 


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