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Could Los Angeles Unified School District Disband Its Police Department?


School districts across the country are rethinking the idea of cops in the classroom. Districts in Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle have all promised to remove police officers from schools. The school board in Los Angeles yesterday debated what to do with its 471-member police department, voting on three different proposals. None passed. Monica Garcia is a member of the school board and offered the most sweeping proposal to essentially disband the school police department.

Thank you for joining us.

MONICA GARCIA: Happy to be here.

SHAPIRO: There seems to be widespread support for reducing the role of police in public schools. Tell us why you want to remove them altogether.

GARCIA: Our police force has been a partner in change, but I will accept that it is not enough to have the best school police force in the country when so many of our children are left out of support for access to learning and making it to graduation ready to face life.

SHAPIRO: According to the LA Times, during the last full school year, police investigated a variety of serious crimes, including 131 mass shooting threats. A sixth-grade teacher named Mimi Guzman-Duncanson spoke up about this during the meeting yesterday, and here's part of what she said.


MIMI GUZMAN-DUNCANSON: This is the world that we live in. And we're very afraid of school shootings - very afraid. I'm here speaking for the other teachers who want to protect our students, the other parents who are begging you to protect our 600,000 students.

SHAPIRO: What's your response to teachers like her?

GARCIA: So listen. I understand there is a focus on behavior, where some people feel safe if a school police officer is there, and some people that we heard of - many young people - saying, I do not feel safe. It causes trauma for me. So I do believe in local control. I do believe in schools and communities being able to choose a strategy that addresses their needs so that learning can happen. And every parent wants their kids safe. What I'm suggesting at this moment, to LA Unified community, our kids are not safe in the current structure. We all must do something different.

SHAPIRO: Some of the other proposals put forward include banning pepper spray, implementing a hiring freeze, replacing armed police in high schools with unarmed security aides, which is what middle schools currently have. Why not sign onto one of those less-sweeping proposals to get something done right away? - because as it is, none of the proposals passed, which means that these questions move to a task force created by the superintendent.

GARCIA: Well, the superintendents' task force can bring the board recommendations by the end of July, before the next school year, could be implemented. This is the challenge with the other two proposals. They don't meet the fundamental moment of doing way more to produce greater strategies of safety that include race and class and the disparities in our system.

SHAPIRO: And so this is now in the hands of the task force that the superintendent appointed. If that task force comes back and recommends something less ambitious, less sweeping than you would prefer, are you going to respect and support that recommendation?

GARCIA: You know, my goal is every child read and writes and gets to graduation. My goal is much bigger than just what we're going to do on safety. So I welcome and support measures to address the disparity in achievement and in discipline. And I think that's a positive movement forward.

SHAPIRO: Sorry. I just didn't get the specific answer, though, of if the task force comes back with something less sweeping than you proposed - would you support that?

GARCIA: I am going to continue to support safety and achievement in LA Unified. And I welcome all ideas. I will continue to be a voice of trying to serve all kids. That is my job. And as the third Latina in 155 years, there is no other job for me to do. I am privileged. I have a four-year degree. I can read or write. It has interrupted poverty in my life. LA Unified has a lot of work to do.

SHAPIRO: Monica Garcia is a member of the LAUSD school board who called for the district's police force to be phased out.

Thank you for speaking with us today.

GARCIA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.