Oakland Unified school districts considers eliminating campus police

Two trustees at Oakland Unified School District are advocating to eliminate police from patrolling school campuses, saying these positions could be turned into "peace and culture keepers" and other less authoritative positions. 

The context of the resolution comes as many in the nation are questioning the role of police, after a white officer killed a black man, George Floyd, by sitting on his neck in Minneapolis over Memorial Day. Calls to "defund" and reform police departments have been repeated throughout the country. 

On Wednesday, Oakland Unified School board members Roseann Torres and Shanthi Gonzales will introduce a proposal to eliminate the district's police department. They want the OUSD police gone by Dec. 31. 

OUSD is the only district in Alameda County that has its own police.

Their resolution calls on the superintendent to redirect the money spent on police to spend on social workers, psychologists, restorative justice coaches and other mental health professionals.

Torres said she likes to think of these jobs as "peace and culture keepers." 

School board member Jody London wrote in her president's report that she is in overall support of "moving forward" with a plan "without a school district police department."

London said she is in alignment with Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell in supporting a transition plan, but that the district simply can't "snap our fingers" to end the contract immediately.

"I am recommending that we move forward with a safety plan without a police department," Johnson-Trammell told the board during Wednesday night's meeting. She said the school police chief agrees. 

Still, both London and Johnson-Trammel both said they want to figure out a way, that will be both safe and practical, to end systemic racism within their school environment. 

"I hear the urgency from our community and understand and share your frustration, particularly in light of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Abery, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Rodney King, Emmett Till and too many others," London said. 

A representative from the OUSD Police Department did not immediately respond for comment on Wednesday. School spokesman John Sasaki said he had no comment before the board meeting. 

The OUSD police officers respond to about 2,000 calls a year during school hours, an official told KTVU. 

Another idea the school board could consider is working with the Georgetown Law School Innovative Policing Project to improve the school police department, in addition to possibly eliminating it. 

The school district has already attempted this once before when Dennis Chaconas was superintendent in the early 2000s.

But in the end, the district ended up having to call Oakland police for assistance - since they no longer had their own department -- when students brought firearms and weapons to school. The school board members at the time realized that they also didn't like how OPD handled these school arrests and went back to their own police department. 

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo, who was a school board member during that time, remembers those scenarios well.

And even though he doesn't currently get a vote on the school board, Gallo said he is philosophically opposed to getting rid of OUSD campus police. 

"The OPD contracting didn't work out," Gallo said. "Their approach to violence was unacceptable." 

Gallo also said that having OUSD police makes that department directly accountable to the superintendent. 

Torres countered that today, Oakland police have a youth services department, which they didn't in Gallo's time, and that these officers have special training to deal with youngsters. 

According to EdSource, OUSD now spends about $6.5 million a year on its police department, which includes seven officers, two sergeants and a police chief, who are all sworn police personnel.

There are an additional 60 non-sworn campus security guards. The proposal calls for eliminating the 10 sworn police positions, which cost the district about $2 million a year. 

It's unclear, however, if the district would save any money by eliminating the police. In addition to reallocating the money to social service professionals, the district would also likely have to hire security guards and non-sworn personnel to make sure the campuses are safe. 

The proposal has the support of the teachers’ union, EdSource reported.

Many students have expressed support for this idea, too.  Samuel Getachew, a graduate of Oakland Tech, started a petition to remove police and reinvest in social programs. 

"It is unacceptable that essential student programs are cut and basic essentials like paper are insufficient at our schools while we overspend on obsolete policing that only serves to reinforce the systemic racism of policing practices and bolster the Oakland school-to-prison pipeline," his petition states. "It is unacceptable that while black students only make up 26% of those enrolled in OUSD, they make up 73% of student arrests."

According to the resolution, the final plan would include input from parents, students, staff and community organizations like the Black Organizing Project, whose members are focused on racial, economic and social justice.

The matter is scheduled for a final vote on June 24.