In a Victory for Youth Advocates, Los Angeles Cuts School Police Budget by 36%

Protesters led by Students Deserve, a youth-led group representing Los Angeles Unified School District students, urged the school board to defund its school police department at a protest outside LAUSD headquarters on June 23. Photo: Jeremy Loudenback

Despite a bitterly divided school board, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted on Tuesday to strip $25 million from its school police department, after mounting protests have highlighted the experiences of Black students on campus.

After a meeting focused on the 2020-21 budget that stretched more than 13 hours, the nation’s second-largest school district will cut nearly 36% of its police budget and reinvest that money in psychiatric social workers, counselors and aides for campuses with a high concentration of Black students. 

The Tuesday vote reversed a board decision just last week, in which the board proceeded far more cautiously by creating a task force to consider changes to school police. That decision was reached after another marathon meeting ended in a stalemate over three proposed plans to change the district’s police department. 

Last year, L.A.’s School Police Department had a $70 million budget and the 471-employee department was responsible for patrolling 1,386 schools across the city. 

Tuesday’s 4-3 vote will station school police officers at a school’s perimeter instead of on campuses and asks the school district not to contract with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or other law enforcement agencies. Instead, Superintendent Austin Beutner will work with community-based organizations to create alternative safety plans for LAUSD campuses.

LAUSD board member Monica García. Photo from LAUSD board meeting on June 30 by Jeremy Loudenback

“We are living a moment in the movement for civil rights,” said board member Monica García, who introduced the plan as part of an amendment to the district’s overall $8.9 billion budget.

In the wake of protests over policing in America after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May, cities from Denver to Sacramento have canceled contracts that employ municipal police as “school resource officers.” Last week, the Oakland Unified School District disbanded its school police department.

In Los Angeles, protests over the past month led by Students Deserve, the Community Coalition, Black Lives Matter and other community groups have drawn attention to the abusive way that Black students have been policed, as well as disparities in discipline experienced by students of color in the district. Despite making up about 8% of LAUSD’s student population, Black youth comprised 25% of all student arrests in 2018, according to the Million Dollar Hoods project at UCLA.

LAUSD board member Kelly Gonez abstained from voting on all school police plans last week, but said Tuesday that hearing from young people at the meetings had created momentum for the board to act immediately, rather than waiting to further study the issue. 

“I don’t know how anyone could hear all those hours of testimony speaking to the harm and to the trauma that’s being caused by the policing institution and not be moved,” Gonez said.

Todd Chamberlain

Los Angeles Unified School District School Police Chief Todd Chamberlain. Photo from LAUSD board meeting on June 30 by Jeremy Loudenback

L.A. School Police Chief Todd Chamberlain said that the $25 million budget cut would mean that his department would have to lay off 65 officers and would not fill 39 vacancies. He said that most schools would be staffed only from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The department, Chamberlain said, would not provide security to schools on nights and weekends during a time when LAUSD schools have been increasingly targeted for burglaries during the pandemic.

George McKenna, the school board’s lone African American member, called the plan to cut school police an “abomination.” McKenna is one of three board members who formerly worked as a school administrator — all of the former administrators offered vociferous opposition to the plan during Tuesday’s meeting. They warned that a move to remove police officers from schools would lead to increased costs if municipal law enforcement had to be relied upon instead.  

“There will be a price to pay, but who will pay that?” McKenna said. “The taxpayers.” 

Jeremy Loudenback is a senior editor for The Imprint and can be reached at jeremyloudenback@chronicleofsocialchange.org.

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