The immediate fallout at LAUSD was bad enough. The school police chief quit and now the department faces what he called the “detrimental and potentially life-threatening” layoffs of 65 campus officers.
But the real tragedy will be the loss of the trust and relationships those officers painstakingly earned over the years — ironically, the same kind of relationships defund police activists say they want to substitute for men and women in blue.
In doing so, the LAUSD board has turned its back on the district’s massive investment over the years in special training and school-based programs that have made its school police a national model.
These soft skills have helped strong bonds with students, parents, teachers and administrators. And they are paying off.
Since 2017-2018, school police have answered 360,000 calls for service — including hundreds of assaults, robberies and campus lockdowns. Mass shooting threats have more than doubled, from 75 to 155.
Yet officers have kept the peace without firing a single bullet or applying one choke hold. The LAUSD board glossed over these facts, lunging ahead with the cuts based on complaints that the occasional use of pepper spray on campus to break up fights “criminalizes” students.
That’s a huge stretch, considering LAUSD officers used pepper spray only 13 times involving students since 2017 — an infinitesimal .004 percent of the time.
Meanwhile, a recent LAUSD internal survey shows that rather than feeling traumatized by the presence of police, 90 percent of students report feeling safe in class — safer, many added, than in their own neighborhoods.
These results are no accident. They come from what school police call “building blue bridges” to the impressionable population it protects and defends.
It starts with training. While California requires 40 hours of special training for school police, LAUSD has doubled down — requiring another 40 hours on topics like understanding the teen brain and cyber bullying.
Armed with these soft skills, officers integrate themselves into campus life as informal mentors and peace makers, first and foremost.
They participate in study sessions with at-risk youth, sponsor after-school football and wrestling clubs and give anti-gang lectures.
These activities allow officers to learn which students are troubled, hear of abuse at home and be in a position to stop crime before it happens. Case in point: tips from students and staff have led to the confiscation of about 30 firearms per year.
Of course, there are times officers need to enforce the law.
But contrary to claims of racial profiling, they do not target any specific group. Eight times out of 10, they are called in after the fact, when a principal has already pulled a student out of class for disruptive or dangerous behavior.
And school officers are not eager to lock kids up when enforcement is warranted. Since 2014, LAUSD police have teamed with Los Angeles County officials to create a diversion program that sends campus offenders to a social worker instead of jail. The result: campus arrests have plummeted 92 percent. Hundreds of students have been given second, even third chances, without the stigma of a criminal record.Here’s another number few people know: 57. That’s how many times a school officer has been commended for saving a life, whether it is convincing a suicidal student not to jump from a school roof or tackling an ex-boyfriend who was dragging a female student off campus in a headlock.
Campus police were in a position to act quickly because they were already on the scene and tuned into the school community. Now because of the LAUSD board’s precipitous vote, the district stands to lose many of its best ambassadors. Its bridge-building programs must be scrapped.
The sad irony is that, in the name of defunding police, LAUSD board members are decimating the very programs they say they want and need — all because they come with a blue uniform and a badge.
And the damage done to school safety as a result will not only be a shame, it serves as a cautionary tale for any other school district tempted to make the same hasty mistake.
William Etue, an LAUSD police officer for 15 years, is the vice president of the 500-member Los Angeles School Police Officers Association.