Removing School Police Could Create Liability Issues for Districts

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

An outgrowth of the civil rights protests that target policing is the effort to close down police presence in schools. While the resolutions ending police responsibilities at schools speak to racial concerns and alternative safety programs, ending cooperation with school police not only raises safety fears but liability issues for the school districts.

School districts up and down California are considering, or have already decided, to end school policing. The Sacramento school district cut police spending from the school budget. The San Francisco district, which declared its schools sanctuary places from law enforcement, is ending its contract with police. Oakland Unified School District has its own police department, but the school district voted to close it down when union contracts end, diverting the $2.5 million for other purposes. Yesterday, Los Angeles Unified joined the parade, cutting the school police budget $25 million.

The school district decisions on police have been made quickly in a highly emotional period of protests and self-examination. A longer-term view of studying the problem is in order.

There is undoubtedly a reason that the school districts created police forces or arranged for Service Resource Officers (SRO) to help keep the schools safe. Will those reasons disappear when the police are no longer present? Will the unspecified alternative safety programs be adequate to respond to trouble?

Reportedly, school staff in Oakland called police for help 2,000 times a year. Even if many of those requests for help are unwarranted, some certainly required police assistance.

While safety for the students and staff is the first priority for the school districts, another concern lurks in abandoning school police protection. Civil legal actions against the school districts could result if things go wrong.

In arguing against defunding school police, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Dallas, Texas school superintendent, said, “When we think about Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and all those other things, parents will never forgive us if something safety wise happens to their kids. We depend on our police department for safety and security and we expect our officers to build relationships with students.”

The idea is for police to know students and stop trouble before it begins. In that sense, it is a form of community policing.

While the extreme situations such as campus shootings are relatively rare—although not rare enough—by removing police from schools and danger strikes, the law enforcement responding to such a situation would be in a reactive mode. There will be class action lawsuits from parents who felt the school board actions of removing police put their children in jeopardy.

Before school boards reflexively change policies to satisfy current passions, they should pause and study all potential consequences of this action and keep in mind that their first responsibility is to safely protect the students, teachers, and staff.

(Update: This piece was updated with the late news that Los Angeles Unified cut funding for police.)

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