Two days after advocates calling for elimination of the school resource officer program rallied in front of City Hall, the council with a unanimous 5-0 vote Wednesday, July 14, took the first steps to remove the SRO position from three campuses starting in fall semester 2022.
With the council’s decision, the Claremont Police Department will re-designate SRO Jennifer Ganino to a lateral position within the department, with a secondary assignment to the district, pending the redesign of a school safety and mental health program by June 30, 2022.
The program will be developed so it “reflects the needs of students, staff, and the community” and created with feedback from local city and school officials and community leaders, according to a city staff report.
City police officers also will be cross-trained to respond to non-emergency calls with a special emphasis on de-escalation skills and student mental health issues. Additionally, a police commissioner will serve as liaison to work with the district advisory committee to focus on racial equity on campuses. Law enforcement also will be less involved in student behavioral issues as the district commits to expanding teacher and staff training to reduce student interference in the classroom.
Lastly, the Police Department will provide two reports to the city’s Police Commission on SRO citations and arrests by race and ethnicity, including data on repeat offenders. These reports will be presented in February and July 2022.
The city and school district split the cost of the SRO position, about $165,000 a year total. Currently, Ganino works at El Roble Intermediate School and San Antonio and Claremont high schools.
The decision comes after a year after Claremont Student Equity Coalition, a conglomerate of student organizations, and Claremont Change, a local grassroots group, began calling for the removal of the SRO from local schools. The groups say the SRO program, which funds armed, uniformed officers on the school campuses, need to be removed and replaced with other resources to help students with mental health and other issues.
In response to these concerns, an ad hoc committee established in September 2020 analyzed the SRO role on campus, examining data and gathering community and stakeholder feedback. In the past nine months, the committee presented its findings, leading to multiple recommendations to the City Council.
“This is a step in the right direction to weaning off of our heavy reliance of law enforcement on school campuses and instead addressing the root of the problems that students and staff experience,” Claremont Change said in a statement Tuesday.
Many who called into the meeting Tuesday — which continued into early Wednesday morning — were CUSD students and alumni who recalled experiences with SROs on campus, some describing instances where they felt targeted by law enforcement. Jayla Sheffield, a CUSD student, said that she plans to leave the district after years of damage to her mental health caused by inadequate resources.
“I have been a part of this fight for a very long time … that’s why this year I’m going to Pomona High School,” said Sheffield, one of those who rallied at City Hall on Monday. “It’s been very clear and transparent that Claremont Unified officials and those in power have not really done the things they needed to do to show the students that they care about their mental health.”
Councilmember Ed Reece said months of calls from students for more metal health resources was reason enough to support the recommendations.
“It’s clear to me that those students are requesting additional help and support, specifically in the area of licensed therapists and mental health workers,” Reece said. “I’ve heard it and it’s clear.”
The decision wasn’t an indictment of Officer Ganino’s work, Reece said, adding that the city needs more officers like her.
“We need officers like Ganino, ones that are patient, caring individuals for our community,” he said.Over the past year, school districts across the region have been dismantling police operations on campus, including in neighboring Pomona, where funding for school police was removed after months of conversations between the Pomona Unified School District, local advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
Los Angeles Unified School District’s board approved a plan in February to cut one-third of its SROs and last June, the Oakland Unified School District board unanimously voted to eliminate its school police department.