Yesterday the Los Angeles School Police Department unveiled protocols intended to reduce the number of daytime curfew tickets written to students. The revised procedures are a result of collaboration and discussions between Public Counsel, the Community Rights Campaign, the ACLU of Southern California, Children’s Defense Fund, CADRE, and Youth Justice Coalition — groups that work to keep students in school — and Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) leaders.
“The Los Angeles School Police Department supports the educational mission of the school district and the Superintendent’s goals of attendance and graduation improvement and reducing the cycle of student ‘push out,’ ” said LASPD Chief Steven K. Zipperman, who issued the directive on Oct. 19. “With this directive, school police officers will be a stronger partner with principals, students, parents and teachers to keep students on track within the educational environment by reducing court appearances and increasing alternate attendance improvement program alternatives offered through a non-penal system or judicial environment.”
The directive puts an end to curfew “sweeps” without cause, where police ticketed students just outside or even on school grounds. It also reminds officers that merely violating curfew is not a reason to search, handcuff, or detain a student. And it charges officers to encourage students to get to campus rather than to ticket them.
School police and LAPD together enforce the City of Los Angeles' daytime curfew law, and the two police forces have now taken major steps to reduce curfew tickets. In April, the Los Angeles Police Department announced similar protocols in part in response to disturbing data showing that 88% of students in Los Angeles Unified School District who received curfew tickets were African American or Latino. Only 74% of LAUSD students are black or Latino.
According to LAPD and LASPD data requested by the groups, police issued more than 47,000 tickets from 2004 to 2009. Each curfew fine can cost more than $250 and require students and their families to miss additional time from school and work to go to court to resolve them.
“When you’re dealing with real-life issues dragging you down and making you late to school, the last thing you need when you get there is to run into police treating you like a criminal and making you feel like there’s no point to trying anymore,” said Nabil Romero, a recent graduate from Roybal Learning Complex in downtown L.A. who received a curfew ticket from L.A. School Police officers in spring 2011. “It’s good to see LASPD realize they need to support students instead of turning us back.”
The breakthrough rules come just a month after Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cárdenas introduced a motion on September 16 to revise the city’s daytime curfew law, a law which has proved ineffective and has targeted students and their families who can least afford to pay.
There are dozens of reasons why students are late or truant, ranging from emotional and mental health problems, school environment, special education needs, economic pressures, substance abuse, physical or emotional abuse in the home, lack of adequate transportation, fear of being harmed at school, bullying, and more. Research shows that schools, not courts, are the best way to address the underlying problems that cause truancy.
"This directive puts students, parents and teachers, not courts and police, in charge of students’ education," said Manuel Criollo, Community Rights Campaign. “We thank Police Chief Zipperman for his leadership in helping students get to school and stay on track and the Los Angeles Unified School District for stepping up to focus on alternatives to criminalization.”
The revisions to the Los Angeles School Police Department procedures were adopted October 19 and, if fully implemented: • Stop unjustified ticket “task forces” and sweeps within the first 90 minutes of the start of school. • Stop ticketing on or near school grounds, where school authorities should be responsible for students. • Directs police to encourage students to get to school rather than ticketing them. • Reinforces the requirement that police must ask students if they have a legitimate excuse before writing them a ticket. • Requires a proactive quarterly monitoring process for the first year to review tickets and the ticketing process and to assess whether the policy is being implemented. • Makes clear that truancy task forces, also known in the community as truancy sweeps, should not be conducted arbitrarily and without a legitimate and substantiated reason.
ACLU-SC, the Community Rights Campaign, Public Counsel, CADRE, Youth Justice Coalition, and Children’s Defense Fund announced they would monitor the revised procedures to ensure that students are being protected.