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California Court Ruling Provides “Blueprint” to Reform Overpolicing in Schools

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It is no wonder that school districts feel pressure to protect children. Between January 2015 and March 2019, there were 90 school shootings in 29 states that ended in the deaths of 92 people. But in January 2019, a state court in California ordered the Stockton Unified School District to rein in the “school resource officers” used to keep kids safe. The order was the result of a three-year investigation that revealed “widespread abuses” by police in Stockton schools including “use of excessive force, unconstitutional and ‘random and suspicionless’ search and seizure procedures using dogs and pat-downs, and frequent arrests targeting even the youngest students. The procedures often resulted in students being treated like criminals for misconduct typical of schoolchildren, especially those with disabilities.”

The investigation showed the district had turned thousands of minor student misbehaviors—commonplace in any school district—into criminal offenses, disproportionately affecting African American, Latino, and disabled students. In many cases, overreactions by undertrained officers created the escalation that led to student arrest.

A March 2015 analysis of state crime statistics by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice revealed that in a district with around 40,000 students–94 percent of whom are people of color–Stockton’s school officers arrested more than 1,800 students on criminal charges in 2012. That included 182 students who were age nine or younger, a rate 37 times higher than all other law enforcement agencies in California. The court’s January 2019 ruling established standards on use of force, mental health referrals, complaint procedures, and public reporting; it also required Stockton schools to end officer arrests of students for disciplinary issues that do not constitute “a major threat to school safety.” YES! Magazine described the ruling as both “unprecedented in strength and scope” and “a blueprint for reforming other districts that suffer from overpolicing.”

Source: Mike Males, “California Decision Aims to End Aggressive Policing in Schools,” YES! Magazine, February 14, 2019, https://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/california-decision-aims-to-end-aggressive-policing-in-schools-20190214.

Student Researcher: Vinca Rivera-Perez (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

Daniel Christof

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