Should SUSD Police be defunded?
Stockton Unified School District Police Department Police Officers Association President David Rose answered our questions…
As you know, Reinvent Stockton’s executive director and SUSD board trustee Lange Luntao has spearheaded a call for the elimination of SUSD Police. He says this call has been partially motivated by the George Floyd incident, but also because of alleged racist and discriminatory practices occurring right here in Stockton.
Is your department in need of being eliminated?
In order to answer that question effectively, we need to look into our department’s history. We were formed just over 30 years ago to protect our children from incidents such as the horrible Cleveland School mass shooting.
Over the last two decades, a lack of proper training and poor hiring standards led to a department that was severely flawed and lacking good direction. It became so dysfunctional that the issues that Mr. Luntao is speaking about today, were very much an issue. But, and it’s a significant “but”, the statistics he is quoting are from the past, and in no way reflect what is going on today since our restructuring. Statistics from 1991 to 2013 in no way reflect the current nature of the department. The bad actors have been removed and our practices reviewed and improved from top to bottom. There is nothing left of the old department, but a bitter memory of why we must do, and be, so much better for our kids.
Our officers sympathize and fully agree with the public’s outrage towards bad police and the George Floyd tragedy. But when a department is on the cutting edge of deescalation training, juvenile restorative justice techniques, mental health and diversity training… and ours excels in all of those areas, why would anyone want to disband that? That is a mixed message that we cannot support as police officers, or as concerned parents and community members ourselves. We are the change people are asking to see.
How many sworn officers does your department have and how many schools do you patrol?
We are approved for 25 police officer positions, currently. We have roughly 75 sites, nearly 60 of those being schools, encompassing roughly 50,000 students and 6,000 staff.
If your police officers are terminated, who will be responsible to handle these calls for service?
I believe that overworked and understaffed local agencies, like the Stockton Police Department and San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department will be left trying to fill a very large void. They will respond to the most significant calls, and likely will not have time to devote to the restorative practices we currently utilize.
The added call volume will lead to their officers being stretched even further than they already are.
How would you say does being a police officer assigned to working schools differ from being a police officer assigned to working the streets?
Being an officer in the schools gives me a chance to build relationships. We are afforded more time to handle calls individually, which gives us the opportunity to use our discretion and best practices in order to find solutions, not the old catch all of exposure to the juvenile justice system.
For me personally, I grew up in an environment where seeing the police caused me to be fearful. Now, I feel fortunate that I get to be the one responding, so the type of officers I feared when I was young, aren’t showing up to handle the call.
It gives me a chance to be the buffer, to make sure our students can be kids, and find the appropriate path for restoration and justice, instead of every minor childhood mistake or decision leading to incarceration.
Do you think exposing children to school police officers at a young age bring harm to their development and make them more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life?
This is definitely not the case with our current practices and procedures. It may have been in the past, but those officers are gone and the shell of a broken department has been broken down. What we represent now is the future of policing in schools. We enrich the development of our youth through immeasurable positive contacts. Our officers spend time reading to and guest teaching for our students. Meeting and greeting during breakfast and lunch, always taking the time to answer burning questions the students pose. We are extremely proud of our programs like the Stockton Public Safety Academy and our Police Explorers program, which give our students positive influence and goals to attain.
Right now our community is speaking, and we are listening. We hear you loud and clear, and we stand with you in disbelief of recent occurrences.
The practices we hear the community asking for, are how we have been policing for the latter part of this past decade, and our numbers speak to that end. We are policing in the future and should be regarded as a model of how police officers should work to help our kids grow!
When is the first time your organization became aware of the “Coalition of Shared Police Responsibility” (I forget their exact name) and how has your organization reacted to their suggestions and demands in the past?
I was first made aware of the Stockton Coalition for Shared Safety, last week, I believe it was on the 17th. I had not heard of them before, nor had our association been contacted by them in the past. We were never given an opportunity to work along side of them, although we would certainly like to be part of a partnership with them in working together to make this a better Stockton for our children.