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Arrest Rates For Latinx Students Decline, But SD Unified Students Still Call For Defunding Police

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At San Diego Unified, the disparity in arrest rates between Latinx and white students has closed, thanks in part to restorative justice practices. Still, students say police have no place on their campuses.

Speaker 1: 00:00 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Mark Sauer, as activists nationwide call for the defunding of police departments. The same reckoning is occurring in schools at San Diego. Unified students say police have no place on their campuses, but the districts police department has made some progress. In recent years, KPBS education reporter Joe Hong spoke to students and experts about whether police can play a role in student wellbeing.

Speaker 2: 00:30 San Diego unified is one of the few school districts in California with its own police department. It's 41 officer forest costs the district about $9 million each year, less than 1% of the district's overall budget. Some schools have as many as four officers at a time patrolling campus. Students say that makes their schools feel like prisons, but the police department has made some progress in how it interacts with students. In the past 12 years, arrest rates of the district have gone down by more than 50%. The most dramatic progress has been with Latin next students in the 2007, 2008 school year, about 1.2% blend. Next students were arrested or detained by school police in 2018, 2019. That number dropped less than half of a percent. In fact, the disparity in rest in detention rates between Latin nights and white students was eliminated by 2015. This may be because the district has invested in alternative methods of school discipline.

Speaker 2: 01:21 Since 2012, the national conflict resolution center has trained teachers and principals at San Diego unified in restorative justice practices designed in part to keep students out of the criminal justice system. The practices that we use, uh, with Latin X students, um, it's not so much different from any other groups within the schools. Francisco carbo hall is the director of alternative juvenile justice at the center. We've seen cases come from San Diego school police, where we have shown that recidivism completely drops when they're being diverted to a community land opportunity rather than concentrating on traditional punishments. But despite successes with Latin next students, the rest rate for black students is about 1.1%, three times, as high as other groups, the historical mistreatment of people with black and Brown skin by police is why Latin X students have joined the fight to defund the police at San Diego unified.

Speaker 2: 02:15 Personally, I don't feel safe with the police presence. Omar Federico Mondragon is one of the students leading the defund school police San Diego organization. While the data might show evidence of less discrimination against Len next students by police Omar and fellow student advocates say that at any investment in polices this investment in student wellbeing, those funds go into more, um, more police officers when it could be going to social and economic mobility programs. It can, it can be going to college readiness programs, you know, we need to do better. And we haven't really, the district is not considering eliminating the police department, but there are those working to create a middle ground that ended up coming to mind. And that space was deescalation. Michelle Ferrer oversees restorative justice program at San Diego unified. Since she started at the district two years ago, she said, she's been inspired by how open the district's police chief has been to restorative justice.

Speaker 2: 03:10 He's always on candid and honest about the ways in which officers in the past were trained, right? And that there's a shift happening and he's, and he believes in the framework, police chief Michael Marquez, wasn't available for an interview. The police captain Joe Florentino said the department's approach to policing has changed dramatically since he started 20 years ago. For example, if a student is caught carrying a knife at school, the consequences today are a lot different from what they were before restorative justice. But now, instead of sending that student to court, what we'll do is we'll send them to either the national conflict resolution center. We have contracts with say San Diego different diversion providers so that the student can go through a program to realize the dangers of carrying a knife Florentino city wants to hear from more students about their concerns about policing, but student activists maintain that the San Diego unified police department needs to be defunded, not reformed.

Speaker 1: 04:08 Joining me is KPBS education reporter Joe Hong and Joe. Welcome. Thanks for having me no arrests and detentions of Latin X students have gone down dramatically over recent years at San Diego unified. But what about the arrests and detentions of black students? Have they gone down to, or have they, as you say, been stuck at that 1.1%,

Speaker 2: 04:32 They have kind of been stuck. And in fact, in, in recent years, uh, they've seen kind of an uptick. Um, there were, uh, just under 1%, but in 18, 19, they were back up at about 1.1%. So you really haven't seen the same success that you've seen with Latin X or Hispanic students

Speaker 1: 04:51 For school officials saying about the fact that black student arrests are three times higher than any other group.

Speaker 2: 04:58 So I've spoken with a couple of board members and I don't think, unfortunately anyone's surprised about sort of the disproportionate impact on black students. I mean, you see this in both suspension rates and expulsion rates as well, but, you know, I was speaking with Richard Berrera the school board vice president. And, you know, he said this was unacceptable. And this is something that the district is hoping to address in the coming months.

Speaker 1: 05:23 Well, what are the most frequent violations that lead to student arrests and detention?

Speaker 2: 05:28 This is really interesting, you know, so back in 2007, 2008, 2009, the most common reasons for it rest and attentions were things like loitering or possession of a weapon. But in recent years you see arrests or I guess more detentions for mental illness, sort of skyrocket. And in the past two or three years, that has been sort of the most common reason for a student interacting with a police officer. And this raises a lot of, and this is something that I'll be looking into in the coming weeks. So I hope to have more on that for you,

Speaker 1: 06:02 The students you spoke with says he doesn't feel safe with the school police presence. Why, Oh, what did he say makes the police a threat?

Speaker 2: 06:11 Yeah, I mean, this was a lot of next student and I told them about this sort of positive trend in the data, um, that showed that line. Next students were being arrested less each year, but you know, you said it's not really that the data doesn't really reflect student experience. He told me that he has sort of these kind of tense encounters with police on campus, where he might just be going to the bathroom and the police will stop and ask him what he's doing. And it's not so much that police are a threat, but it's more just like students are wondering why they're on campus in the first place. You know, this is a place where they're supposed to go to learn, but, um, a police presence doesn't really cultivate that sort of welcoming environment.

Speaker 1: 07:00 The students leading the fight to defund school police at San Diego unified, they're saying police funding could be diverted into social and economic mobility programs. But if the police only account for less than 1% of the district's budget would diverting those funds make a big impact.

Speaker 2: 07:20 That's tough to say. I think the students would say that look, it's less than 1% of the school's budget or the district's budget, but it's still $9 million. And the students sort of argument is that any investment that you're making in lease is really a disinvestment in sort of student wellbeing with $9 million you could pay, you could pay for a significant number of, of school counselors.

Speaker 1: 07:42 So historically black and Brown students have been victims of what's been called the school to prison pipeline. They they're arrested or expelled from school and then headed into a life of crime. We've been hearing about that for years, our school officials now working to stop.

Speaker 2: 07:58 Yeah. So at San Diego unified, especially for the past, uh, eight years or so, um, the district has invested in what's called restorative justice programs where instead of automatically suspending expelling or, uh, arresting a student, they'll lie more on counseling services to sit down with both the student. And, uh, if there's a, if there's a victim and to really talk things out. And in one example, you know, if a student brings a weapon to school, it's not really just about arresting that it's fast. And why did you bring a weapon to school and really getting to the, to the root of the problem,

Speaker 1: 08:36 Argument to school officials make about why the school police are needed the

Speaker 2: 08:40 First place? Yeah, so a school shootings come up a lot, I think following 2018 and sort of the high profile, uh, school shootings that occurred districts across the country really amped up security on campus and that bringing police onto schools, but the students I spoke with, they sort of say, you know, that's not the right approach. What students called for a, if you recall, in 2018 was creating more gun regulation and they don't really see more police presence on campuses as a solution to,

Speaker 1: 09:13 Is there any dialogue planned between student activists and the school police

Speaker 2: 09:18 Last week? Actually the school district held a, what was called an equity work stuff. It was sort of a public sort of school board meeting where the school board held, uh, heard from student leaders about their concerns about not just policing, but creating a more diverse, uh, sort of workforce at the district. Meaning, meaning teachers, you know, a lot of students say that they'll go through school and graduate and not have a teacher who looks like them. And it's, it's all for students. It's all sort of part of the same problem, you know, creating this welcoming environment for them. So that equity workshop was last week. And this is sort of an ongoing conversation that will be, um, taking place at the school year.

Speaker 1: 09:58 I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter, Joe Hong and Joe. Thank you. Thanks.

Speaker 2: 10:03 Cute.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.