The board of education in Oakland, California, has voted to disband its own police force, joining a growing number of U.S. school districts moving to scale back the presence of law enforcement on their campuses in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
What We Know:
- On Wednesday night, the board voted unanimously to abolish the Oakland Unified School District police department, consisting of 10 officers and 57 unarmed security guards. The vote comes after years of pressure for dismantlement led by the local activist group, Black Organizing Project, led by executive director Jackie Byers, who started the movement in 2011. “We knew that this was not going to be an easy battle. When we started this, there were a lot of folks who thought that was way too radical,” Byer said.
- She says that in 2011 when the organization first launched a campaign to address the over-policing of Black youth, even those who were working on tackling the achievement gap or school discipline “weren’t trying to have conversations about law enforcement in schools”. “We knew that we were kind of on the margins of the conversation, but we decided to continue to push,” Byer said. “And here we are in 2020.”
Big news for Oakland schools today with the OUSD board voting to eliminate its police force. Special shout out to @JessikaBlack01 and @BlackOrgProject– they have worked on this issue for TEN years! This is a huge step in the right direction for our Oakland communities. https://t.co/gdYBns31vt
— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) June 25, 2020
- Many school districts have contracts with local police departments to provide security, but Oakland is one of the hundreds of districts with its own police department. Across the country, many schools have a relationship with law enforcement, about 45% of public schools had at least one school resource officer working on campus during the 2017-18 school year.
- The resolution to eliminate the Oakland school police force, which costs the district more than $6 million each year, gained support from the local teachers’ union, school superintendent, and students. The district will eliminate its police department by the end of the year and hire more social workers, psychologists, or “restorative justice practitioners”.
- The decision comes as schools around the country are rethinking the relationship between law enforcement and schools. Oakland school district’s counterpart across the bay in San Francisco also voted to go police-free in its schools. Denver’s public school system also voted earlier this month to terminate its contract with the city’s police department to provide school resource officers.
- Defenders of police in schools say those officers are specially trained to de-escalate tensions and to protect campuses from outside threats, such as mass shootings. “I think it’s a dangerous mistake,” said former district security guard Tony Hegler. “That’s telling people that the school zone is a free for all for criminal activity.”
- Oakland School Police chief Jeff Godown supports the decision despite the expectation that this will put him out of a job. “I assume when you talk to a lot of police and chiefs, they probably tell you that the world’s going to come to an end and everything’s going to be horrible if we don’t have police in schools,” says Godown. “My answer to you is they’re wrong.”
- The Board cited the disproportionate arrests of Black students by Oakland’s school police, as well as the district’s “obligation to promote the healthy development of each one of its students” and the many alternative ways to handle discipline inside schools, directing the superintendent to take steps required to eliminate the department. From the 2015-2016 school year through 2019-2020, Black students have accounted for 73 percent of arrests in city schools but just 26 percent of enrollment, according to the resolution.
- The Board also added several amendments to the final proposal, one which requires the superintendent to ensure all staff receives training.
- “We are overwhelmed with emotion and filled with gratitude for this historic win. We thank the Board for taking this monumental step, and the Black youth and parents, and community and administrative partners who fought with us to make this possible,” said Byer in a statement.
Now that the resolution has been approved, the school police would be out before the start of the next school year. The resolution calls for a “community-driven process” so the district will work with students, parents, teachers, and the BOP to create a new school safety plan by no later than August 21.