While the battle has raged over the OUSD school police and what happens if we get rid of them, a third of our public school students already exist without a district force, the charter public schools. They have some mixed and important lessons that OUSD should learn from, and plan for.
Charters do not have their own force, when something happens, they call the OPD. That is what will happen at OUSD when the school police are gone. And like I said it has been mixed. Let me raise a couple of issues, that can be dealt with, however that won’t happen by itself.
Problem 1-Bad decisions by “Barbecue Becky” Administrators to Call the Cops
First let me acknowledge that there is some very small number of cases the police should be called. We have had reports of sexual assaults, threatening of staff or students with a legitimate weapon, and things like terroristic threats, which while often not real threats, need to be investigated.
That said, I am the guy people call when something crazy happens. So, I often see the worst.
One school called the cops on a kindergartener. Young administrator, inexperienced, obviously lacking in some, ahem…skills, but yeah. The child was saying some disturbing things and visibly upset. But, why in God’s, or compassion’s or any other name would you ever call the cops on a kindergartener. Thankfully, OPD came and basically turned around and said that’s not a policing matter. Not every child is so lucky, and had the child been bigger or older, it may have been treated differently. But OUSD is going to need to train its younger or less “woke” folks, not to call the cops. While for many of the uninitiated, that is their first move, when exasperated.
And the kids are almost always Black—let’s be honest.
Problem 2- OPD has mixed responsiveness
We had a student who was making terroristic threats. Guns. Specific threats to come on the school yard and targeting specific people. It was on social media, so we had no idea who it was. We closed school out of caution. We called OPD. They were kind of like…there’s nothing we can really do.
We call the FBI, they are concerned, they get OPD on it. From the administrator.
“Our calls to Oakland Police Department didn’t immediately prompt action on their end. We called the San Francisco FBI office and shared the threat, and within minutes had city officials and high ranking OPD members at our door. At the end of the first day of school closure, we still didn’t have enough information and had to close the school a second day.”
And this is that I have often heard, You can develop a relationship with the local precinct etc., which somewhat helps, but it’s a crap shoot in terms of who responds when you call OPD, and how responsive they actually are.
Don’t get me wrong on this. I have seen police in schools, where Richmond cops handcuffed my godson in front of the school, with everyone watching. He was in fourth grade, and pushed though an administrator to get his ball that he was promised.
I also ran a school, in NYC, where the specialized cops intimated that a child would be sexually assaulted in juvenile, if he didn’t admit to a crime, he was a 6th grader.
So, I am fine with OUSD getting rid of its cops, and saving some money. Money that should be reinvested in real school and student wellness and safety—but probably won’t be. Even in the absence of that, OUSD will still have folks calling the cops. Its just a different set of cops.
So we need to change our behaviors, call the cops a lot less, have much more robust interventions and early warning systems at sites, and really rethink that very small set of times we need law enforcement intervention. And even within those, focus on the community needs, rather than the typical reactive and punitive response from police.
There will be cops on campuses, how often, for what, and how accountable we hold them and ourselves is the question.
I truly hope OUSD is planning for answers.