Commission elects to ‘redesign’ school safety, eliminate SRO
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Thursday the Claremont Police Commission approved a recommendation to “redesign” school safety on the city’s public school campuses and reassign the uniformed and armed school resource officer effective in one year.
In an 8-1 vote—Jon Strash was the lone no—the commission backed the proposal developed by a special ad hoc committee tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of Claremont’s SRO program. However, the resolution ended up significantly reworded following commission debate. The commissioners unanimously approved a separate resolution to assign one of its members to serve as a liaison on the Claremont Unified School District’s advisory committee on racial equity.
Since police commissioners are appointed and cannot have final say, the recommendations will be forwarded to the CUSD Board of Education and the Claremont City Council for final approval. While it is not yet known when these two elected bodies will take up the SRO issue, several city councilmembers have expressed interest in making a decision soon. The SRO position is funded by both the district and the city.
A menu of additional proposals from the SRO ad hoc committee was approved on June 3, including expanding training officers receive in de-escalation and student mental health issues and expanding direct student access to mental health professionals. However, during that meeting the commission was not able to agree on the student resource officer position itself and continued the item.
The SRO ad hoc committee, including commissioners Rafik Mohamed, Becky Margiotta and Vice Chair Rolondo Talbott, was created by the police commission during its September 3, 2020 meeting.
During last Thursday’s meeting Commissioner Caleb Mason objected to the original wording of the recommendation, specifically the direction to “discontinue financing the school resource officer.” Echoing the concerns of Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen, Commissioner Mason, and several of his colleagues, also wanted language inserted into the recommendation that would guarantee that the police department would maintain adequate staff to patrol the city if the SRO was reassigned.
At the June meeting Chief Vander Veen stated if the SRO, Jennifer Ganino, were to be reassigned to “an appropriate lateral designation” but still had to respond to calls for service on CUSD’s campuses, that would leave the city under protected because of the way officer time is currently divided. Patrols are commonly staffed by two officers below Foothill Boulevard and one above, so any call to a CUSD campus significantly reduces the number of patrol officers. So, at the time, the chief requested that any plan to eliminate the SRO position also include funding to field a fourth patrol officer.
“Effective June 30, 2022, provided that funding is available to ensure no loss of coverage, staff or police officer positions, that the city re-designate the school resource officer to a lateral designation within the police department with a secondary assignment to the Claremont Unified School District to respond to student/school related calls, pending the completion of the redesign of school safety and well being programs by the representative working group,” read the recommendation as passed.
“Nine months ago, I suggested that we reevaluate the SRO program to see what is working and what is not, just as we periodically have done in the past through our Joint Operating Procedures, a joint effort between CUSD and CPD. I am happy to see, after nine months of debate, that the recommendation from the Police Commission is to conduct that review while ensuring that there is an officer specifically assigned to respond to school/student related issues,” Chief Vander Veen said on Tuesday. “I am certain by June 30, 2022, the Police Commission’s recommended target date, that the Police Department, School District, and community leaders can review the current SRO program and develop ways to make the school safety programs even better, while reflecting the needs of the school district.”
The decision was hailed as a success from many in the community who have called for changes to on-campus policing, which they say disproportionally targets Black and Hispanic students and is not effective in making schools safer.
“The commission recommendation made it clear—we need to reimagine and redesign student and school safety and well being. Armed officers do not belong on school campuses in any sort of permanent way. The programs we have now, like the SRO, are not effective.” Noah Winnick of Claremont Change said. “This decision if upheld by city council empowers the community to design a program that works for everyone. The commission sent a clear 8-1 message, change is needed now.”
Last Wednesday the Pomona Unified School District voted on a budget that did not include roughly $350,000 to fund two on campus officers, effectively ending the program in that city. The district will instead rely on proctors trained in de-escalation for school safety.
“This is a milestone that has been met,” Caroline Lucas, a Pomona youth organizer told The Los Angeles Times. “For me it means that leaders can experiment with what transformative activists have been trying to do.”
In a letter to parents, guardians and community members dated July 1, Pomona Unified Superintendent Richard Martinez doesn’t mention the SRO program in particular but does reassure the community that “efforts to ensure secure campus are the final piece of the post COVID puzzle.”
“During these summer months, our team is working hard for your family. In every respect, our district’s relationship with local law enforcement agencies remains positive, and we will continue to collaborate for the benefit of our Pomona and Diamond Bar families,” Superintendant Martinez said in the letter.