With calls for disbanding school police departments and severing school relationships with police agencies at the forefront of national discussion, Pasadena Unified School District officials say the district ended contractual ties with the city Police Department years ago.
United Teachers Los Angeles joined the call Thursday night to eliminate the Los Angeles School Police Department and “to redirect funding to mental health counseling for our students,” according to a UTLA statement. The motion, passed by the UTLA’s House of Representatives 154-56, followed student protests also demanding the disbandment of the LAUSD’s police department.
And while some have raised similar issues in Pasadena, calling for the PUSD to sever formal ties with the Police Department, officials said there is essentially no relationship to end.
The PUSD does not have its own police department and has not made use of school resource officers provided by the Police Department for several years, according to Superintendent Brian McDonald.
“About five years ago, then police chief Phil Sanchez ended the MOU that provided school resource officers to our district because of budget cuts,” McDonald wrote in an email responding to a parent’s concerns about police on campus, as well as any funding that may be used to pay for them. “We do not currently have a contractual relationship with them and certainly not one that requires us to pay them.”
“That said, the board and the executive leadership team of the district will be discussing ways to play a part in the change that must occur in our community with regard to how minorities are treated and not just by the police,” he added. “Please stay tuned.”
The Police Department responds to any calls for service at Pasadena schools, as they lie within the department’s jurisdiction, PUSD Board of Education Member Scott Phelps said.
Police officers are periodically hired to work security at large high school events, such as rivalry football games or the Turkey Tussle, PUSD Chief Business Officer Leslie Barnes said in an email. When that happens, they are funded by athletic funds or school site budgets.
With respect to a regular presence of uniformed officers on school campuses, however, “We don’t really have this idea of what L.A. is doing, what other people are doing. We don’t have that arrangement right now,” Phelps said.
PUSD Board of Education member Michelle Richardson Bailey said police at schools could be beneficial.
“The positive thing was that it gives the students and police an opportunity to build a relationship, build a rapport with one another, so that when the police are in the community doing their community policing and they run into the students, there’s that familiarity there,” she said. “And so it kind of takes away some of the fear, I think it has the potential to do that.”
But Bailey said police on campus can have a negative impact, as well.
“I always had reservations about police, not the school police, but when the city police came in to take over the role once we dissolved the school police force,” she said.
“I had concerns because there were students that have police records that could possibly be threatened with being arrested if they had to come in contact with city police that they were interacting with on the school campus,” she said. “So that was a whole other issue. And I was very concerned about that, but I wasn’t on the Board then. I was actually a parent and an employee in the District at the time, but I did voice that concern.”
Bailey added that she never personally saw any problems involving police on campus.