Calif. School District Ends On-Campus Police Presence

The Pomona Unified School District in Pomona, Calif., recently elected to end on-campus police presence and patrols following a multi-year community activism campaign. The district will instead turn to proctors trained in de-escalation methods as a first method of resolving disputes between students.

The district serves 23,000 students and formerly worked with Pomona police to place one uniformed officer at each of its four high schools. The district paid Pomona police about $366,000 in 2019 for the presence of two officers. Last week, the school board approved a budget that did not renew this contract with the Pomona Police Department. Superintendent Richard Martinez said those funds will go to resources that will help students after a year of remote learning.

“This is a milestone that has been met,” said Pomona youth organizer Caroline Lucas, who campaigned for police removal. “For me, it means that leaders can experiment with what transformative activists have been trying to do.”

Activist group Gente Organizada has led the effort to reduce police presence in schools since 2016, when a 16-year-old had a violent altercation with police at the Los Angeles County Fair. A jury later acquitted the officers involved of use of excessive force. “That was kind of the spark for this campaign,” said Gente Organizada’s co-founder, Jesus Sanchez. “The students know that these officers are on their school campuses. They see them.”

Instead of police, the district’s primary method of support will be unarmed proctors who work across all the district’s campuses. Martinez said that proctors are usually parents or recent graduates.

Pomona police spokesperson Aly Mejia said that the department has “always taken pride in the meaningful relationship we’ve established with our community and Pomona youth…while [school resource officers] responded to calls at the various schools, they were mentors to many young children.”

The Pomona Unified School District is one of six districts in California that have approved efforts to defund or eliminate school police presence. Some activists have cited the region’s high immigrant population as the reason that many youths’ first experience with police is a negative one. “It’s a feeling of fear. I don’t feel safe,” said a 16-year-old rising junior at Pomona High School. “I want to run away from them even though I haven’t done anything.”

When they see police in the halls, “[s]tudents become conditioned to believe that they’re doing something wrong or in a place where something bad is happening,” said Brenda Gomez, a 2018 graduate of Pomona High School.

About the Author

Matt Jones is senior editor of Spaces4Learning and Campus Security and Life Safety. He can be reached at MJones@1105media.com

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