Teaching Students or Arresting Them?
by John McDonald
Across America, black youth are about two and one-half times as likely to be arrested as their white peers. But in the Los Angeles Unified School District, ten times as many black youth as whites were arrested by school police between 2014 and 2017. During those years, Los Angeles School Police arrested 95 white students, and 970 black students.
According to new research published by Million Dollar Hoods, a research project under the leadership of Professor Kelly Lytle-Hernandez at the Ralph. J. Bunch Center for African American Studies at UCLA, black youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District are far more likely to be arrested, cited or referred to diversion programs by the Los Angeles School Police Department than their white peers. While black youth make up less than 9 percent of the total student population, they comprise 25 percent of total arrests, citations and referrals by the department.
“It’s clear that black students are disproportionately bearing the brunt of school police enforcement practices across the district says, Terry Allen, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Education at UCLA and a researcher on the Million Dollar Hoods Project.
“That means that learning opportunities for black youth are also being impacted. Positive conditions for learning and safety do not exist when black students are disproportionately subjected to law enforcement interactions.”
The Million Dollar Hoods study, “Policing Our Students: An Analysis of L.A. School Police Department Data (2014 – 2017), reports that the Los Angeles School Police Department made 3,389 arrests while issuing 2,724 citations and 1,282 diversions between 2014 and 2017. Boys of color made up more than three-quarters (76%) of all involvement with the Los Angeles School Police. Elementary and middle-school age youth age youth accounted for one in four arrests.
“The scope and scale of enforcement action across the school district is troubling, says Allen. “While arrests and citation are on the decline and diversions are rising, the level of enforcement action is at odds with the purpose of providing all students with the opportunity to learn.”
The researchers also underscore that contact with law enforcement can also impair mental health and well-being, induce trauma, erode trust in the criminal justice system, and negatively impact educational achievement, advancement, and subsequent attainment.
“The over reliance on law enforcement runs counter to much of the rhetoric we have heard about shifting school discipline practices to more restorative approaches and can have devastating consequences,” says Allen. “We–together as researchers, practitioners, and policymakers–need to shift our understanding of how to create positive conditions of learning for all students and what it takes to make our schools safe. The best approaches have nothing to do with school police.”
“Policing Our Students: An Analysis of L.A. School Police Department Data (2014 – 2017) is available online at “http://milliondollarhoods.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Policing-Our-Students-MDH-Report-Final.pdf