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New Police Chief Wants Officers Back in Public Schools, Told to Expect Pushback

Harris met resistance from some members of the Community Police Oversight Commission Thursday when he announced the department's goal of returning officers to school campuses, for relationship building

Published on Friday, February 3, 2023 | 6:01 am
Pasadena Police Chief Eugene Harris

Pasadena Police Chief Eugene Harris presented his goals and priorities for the upcoming months before the Community Police Oversight Commission on Thursday, putting increased engagement with the community and schools to gain public trust at the top of his list.

The meeting also saw the presentation of the Pasadena Police Department’s 180-day leadership transition plan, serving as the blueprint for Departmental activities following Harris’ appointment on Jan. 3.

“My philosophy coming into this position was to ensure that we are adhering to the principles of 21st-century policing – ensuring that we are meeting the pillars of gaining trust and transparency in the way that we conduct our business,” Harris said in his opening statement during the Oversight Commission meeting. 

According to Harris, during his first 30 days in the position, meetings were held with Police Dept. employees to identify and articulate the department’s purpose, values, and cultural norms. 

Harris said an all-hands meeting was held at the Pasadena Convention Center, where he announced his expectations and plans for the Dept.’s future. 

The first 60 days are focused on conducting internal evaluations and reviews, while the next 90 days will involve a budgetary process review and compliance checks, Harris told the Committee.

“That is a very big thing for us to do is to find out exactly where the dollars are going and how they can be effectively spent,” he said. 

Within 120 days, the department will focus on community engagement and immerse in community programs. The department’s plans for the next 180 days include a team-building workshop with an outside facilitator.

Harris said during this period, the Pasadena Police Dept. is also planning to bring 40 “at-risk children” and 40 “mainstream children” and law enforcement officers to a camp called  “Camp Pasadena” organized by the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“We [will be] there for a week so we can be around children and get to know them and get them to know us outside of a police environment,” Harris remarked. 

Harris said that as part of community engagement, he had broached the subject of returning officers to Pasadena’s public schools.

“I met with [Pasadena Unified School District] Superintendent Brian McDonald and told him I would love to get officers back in the schools and make sure we are meeting people in the schools and at the school level in times when we’re not under stress and were not there to handle a call and were not there to address an active shooter,” Harris said. “We would like people to meet our officers in soft uniforms in circumstances where we can have discussions and we can talk and get to know people and people can get to know us.” 

“The Superintendent was responsive to that,” he remarked. 

Harris clarified Friday that his intention is to promote relationships in the community in coordination with the District by building better relationships with students and staff. More details will follow in coming days, he said.

‘Expect Pushback’ 

The plan to put officers on school campuses was assailed by some members of the Community Police Oversight Commission. Members cautioned Harris to expect pushback from the community if the Pasadena Police Dept. proceeds with the plan.

“As you say that you are aiming to do some work in the community in particular with the focus on schools – I’m raising a flag there, as this community has fought long and hard to get the police out of our public school system. Be expectant to be met with some resistance there,” Committee Vice Chair Juliana Serrano said. 

“There are many of us here in this community that, while we want to see the community and the police department and the police officers grow in trust and grow in relationships – many of us don’t feel that coming into the schools directly and accessing our youth in that particular way is the method by which to do that.” 

Commissioner Florence Annang agreed with Serrano.

“Pasadena has asked for the police to come out of the schools for years… because there has to be a place where the kids can be kids, whether you go in there in plain clothes or you go in there not looking like a police,” Annang said. 

“There is no need for another supervisory people to be there to say ‘we can help you.’ Personally, I don’t think it is needed whether it is elementary, middle school or high school. Police have to figure out a community space where kids want to meet them.” 

Chair Raul Ibáñez warned Harris to expect resistance.

“Expect big pushback from that. There’s a reason why we don’t have that program anymore in our city and there’s a reason why myself and many other educators within the district advocated for not having law enforcement present in our schools,” Ibáñez said. “Law enforcement is out of their scope.” 

“Our City’s department has so much already on their plate. To have to train them to go into our schools is just something that we shouldn’t do and something that we shouldn’t ask our officers to do either,” Ibáñez added. 

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