In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, cities across the nation are calling to defund the police, and for many advocates, this call goes beyond city and county police departments.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation is one of many organizations calling to defund police in schools and reallocate the funds to other education and mental health services in schools.
“We should defund police in schools because there is a lot of funding that could be used to help support students,” said Cecilia Castro, DHF’s Education Police Director.
The Kern High School District, for example, has its own police department. The district employs 28 officers, one lieutenant, and once chief of police. Each High school campus has its own officer, according to Erin Briscoe-Clarke, KHSD’s spokeswoman.
For the 2018-19 school year, the district’s budget for its police department was around $4 million – less than 1 percent of the budget.
But Castro said those funds should be reallocated elsewhere. She said for years, students have been asking for more mental health services, specifically social workers, psychologists and nurses.
KHSD currently employs 310 individuals dedicated to addressing the mental, emotional, and academic well being of students. These positions include school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, interventionists, mental health clinicians and more. The district’s budget for these support professionals is around $35 million, which is about 7.7 percent of the district’s overall 2018-19 budget.
“The Kern High School District has a deep and ongoing commitment to the health and well-being of its students and allocates significant resources annually toward aiding students in all aspects of academic achievement, social and emotional development,” said Briscoe-Clarke.
Although the district allocated more money to mental health services than it did to its police department, KHSD was still spending more money per employee at the police department than it was on mental health personnel.
With 30 police employees, the district spent a little more than $133,000 per employee. With 310 mental health personnel, the district is spending a rough estimate of about $113,000 per employee. (These numbers do not indicate salaries for employees.)
Castro said a bigger concern is the counselor-to-student ratio at each of Kern High’s 23 schools.
“We know that the ratio of counselors and students is a lot lower than the ratio of police on campus to students,” said Castro. “There has always been an unbalanced ratio of any type of support services for students versus the police on campus.”
The American School Counselor Association recommends there be one school counselor for every 250 students.
At KHSD, there are 123 counselors for more than 40,000 students. This comes out to a ratio of 328 students per school counselor. Though this is far better than the California ratio of counselors to students of 622-to-1, according to the California Department of Education, some say there is still work to be done.
The high student to counselor ratio seems to be a national trend. California’s ratio is the third highest in the country, according to CDE, behind only Arizona and Michigan. The national average is 464-to-1.
Although some are calling to defund police in schools, some say this will lead to schools being unprotected.
“Defunding our police department would obviously decrease our ability to protect our students and contribute to a safe and positive learning environment,” said KHSD Police Chief Ed Komin. “If the KHSD Police ceased to exist, or were no longer able to provide adequate coverage, our capable, but already overburdened outside law enforcement agencies would have to be called upon to assist the schools.”
Komin said KHSD’s Police Department, which Komin said does not function as a disciplinarian, helps address violence that occurs on and around school campuses.
“School shootings continue to be a serious concern for educators, parents, students and law enforcement,” he said. “Our officers take immediate action to protect the students, staff, and school from this outside threat by establishing a perimeter and locking down the campus.”
According to Komin, officers in schools can also serve as mentors for students and work to contribute to a positive school climate throughout the District.
“(Officers) develop a very protective mindset toward their students, staff, and campus,” he said. “The positive and mutually trusting relationships that are being developed through the efforts our students and officers will undoubtedly help improve our students’ lives.”
However, Castro says police in schools can actually have the opposite effect. Castro said the presence of law enforcement on campus oftentimes has a negative effect on students from low income neighborhoods, “where they see things happening on their own streets.”
“(Students) see what law enforcement looks like in their own homes, so moving away from punishing students to something more holistic that supports them, that gives them those resources and opportunities that they need,” said Castro.
Many of those in favor of defunding police in schools say officer’s presence contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline.
According to University of Maryland Criminal Justice Professor Denise C. Gottfredson, whose research has focused on the effects of school environments on youth behavior, police presence in schools became more prominent beginning in the 1990s when juvenile crime increase, ABC News reports.
However, crime among juveniles has steadily decreased from 2008 to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
In 2008, the arrests of juveniles anywhere in the U.S. totaled nearly 2 million. As of 2018, there were an estimated 728,280 arrests.
Castro said reallocating funds to other services would benefit students.
“The reallocation of funds should ensure that students can celebrate holidays, like Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, and also to increase parent engagement,” said Castro. “All of these are resources that students have been asking for, for some time.”
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.