News

Mountain View City Council votes to keep cops in local schools

Police will continue to have a role in Mountain View schools, following a vote by the City Council to retain the School Resource Officer program. Photo by Michelle Le

Police officers will continue to have a presence in Mountain View schools after the City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to retain the School Resource Officer program, parting ways with other jurisdictions that have eliminated the use of cops in schools.

The decision calls for making serious efforts to reform the program, however, including clear written guidelines for how officers should conduct themselves on campus and when interacting with students. Cops assigned to youth services, or SROs, have been working under loose rules with no policy manual and with no formal agreement with local school districts -- something the City Council is seeking to change.

Mountain View police have been quietly operating in local schools for decades, but their role is often misunderstood, according to surveys. Officers are not there to actively patrol classroom halls looking for crimes, nor are they there to run security for the school districts. Instead, they play a more "relational" role in working with troubled students and their support network of friends, family and school staff, often acting as mentors.

But the surge in protests and demands for police reform that dominated the summer of 2020 -- following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer-- prompted city officials to take a closer look at what can be changed locally, including the SRO program.

The feedback has been mixed. Among high school students who were surveyed, 27% felt "negatively" about school cops, compared to 30% who said they felt "positively." The plurality of students were neutral on the topic. Some students said they felt uncomfortable in the presence of an armed police officer at school, while others felt they were racially profiled.

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"There is a perception that students of color are the primary students who face disciplinary actions from SROs," according to a city staff report. "Students report that when a student has their belongings searched or is being interviewed by an SRO in sight of other students, it casts a negative light on the student being searched or interviewed."

The vast majority of parents with school-age children said they support SROs, and district leaders from both the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District have both come out in strongly in support of keeping the program.

Last year, the city's Public Safety Advisory Board recommended that the SRO program stick around, but made numerous recommendations to better articulate what exactly officers are supposed to be doing on campus.

But as those recommendations came to the council for approval on Jan. 25, numerous public speakers urged council members to forget about changing the SRO program and consider dissolving it altogether. Renee Rashid, a parent and member of Los Altos for Racial Equity, said the survey results show the program should be reevaluated altogether, and that getting rid of SROs will not compromise the safety and security of students on campus. If the role of school cops is to act as mentors and building relationships, she said that could be better accomplished by counselors, teachers and other staff.

"We believe that there are better ways to achieve those goals than an SRO and through the Youth Services Unit programs, for which we have no concrete data about effectiveness," she said.

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One student, a Mountain View High School alum, said he believed the city had no intention of ever terminating the SRO program regardless of the negative experiences he and others have had with police at schools, and that the results were preordained. Kalinda Price, a teacher at Los Altos High School, said she had personally witnessed officers escalating situations where students were having a mental health breakdown, and where black and brown parents of families were "disrespected and accosted" by police.

"It just seems like there is a lot of time and effort being put on things that don't support the people who look like me or the people who I serve, and it's outright disrespectful," Price said.

Councilwoman Sally Lieber said she was taken aback by the public comments and was reluctant to support the SRO program going forward. She said she was particularly troubled that the program operates in public schools, where students are compelled to attend, and yet there are no written protocols for how officers are supposed to conduct themselves on campus. She said she does not know what the rules are for questioning, searching or detaining students, for example, and the program does not report out performance data.

"We are data-driven in our other city functions, we do have manuals and protocols that council can see and understand and it's not within a black box that says, 'Trust me, there's something great going on,'" Lieber said.

But for the majority of the council, the SRO program deserves to be fixed and rules clarified rather than eliminated. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she was opposed to a "scorched earth" approach, and that police have played an instrumental role in curbing gang activity in local schools over the years. She said there's nothing wrong with having officers as role models, and that it could stand to turn negative perceptions of police into something positive.

"If we got rid of this program we would be taking a step back," she said.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who ultimately voted in favor of the recommendations, questioned whether the functions of the SRO program were really the best use of public safety resources. The combined staffing cost of the Youth Services Unit is close to $1.3 million each year, which she said might be better spent on things like preventing bike thefts or helping the elderly avoid getting scammed.

Councilwoman Pat Showalter said the city ought to take a close look at clarifying the role of school officers, and that there is far too much confusion surrounding the program. Many believe that the primary role of SROs is security on school sites and enforcing the law, which is not the case, and she suggested that a new mission statement be created for the public.

"We need to have some people wordsmith this and get it out in a very clear statement of what's the purpose -- what's the mission for this project," Showalter said.

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Kevin Forestieri is an assistant editor with the Mountain View Voice and The Almanac. He joined the Voice in 2014 and has reported on schools, housing, crime and health. Read more >>

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Mountain View City Council votes to keep cops in local schools

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Jan 27, 2022, 1:30 pm

Police officers will continue to have a presence in Mountain View schools after the City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to retain the School Resource Officer program, parting ways with other jurisdictions that have eliminated the use of cops in schools.

The decision calls for making serious efforts to reform the program, however, including clear written guidelines for how officers should conduct themselves on campus and when interacting with students. Cops assigned to youth services, or SROs, have been working under loose rules with no policy manual and with no formal agreement with local school districts -- something the City Council is seeking to change.

Mountain View police have been quietly operating in local schools for decades, but their role is often misunderstood, according to surveys. Officers are not there to actively patrol classroom halls looking for crimes, nor are they there to run security for the school districts. Instead, they play a more "relational" role in working with troubled students and their support network of friends, family and school staff, often acting as mentors.

But the surge in protests and demands for police reform that dominated the summer of 2020 -- following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer-- prompted city officials to take a closer look at what can be changed locally, including the SRO program.

The feedback has been mixed. Among high school students who were surveyed, 27% felt "negatively" about school cops, compared to 30% who said they felt "positively." The plurality of students were neutral on the topic. Some students said they felt uncomfortable in the presence of an armed police officer at school, while others felt they were racially profiled.

"There is a perception that students of color are the primary students who face disciplinary actions from SROs," according to a city staff report. "Students report that when a student has their belongings searched or is being interviewed by an SRO in sight of other students, it casts a negative light on the student being searched or interviewed."

The vast majority of parents with school-age children said they support SROs, and district leaders from both the Mountain View Whisman School District and the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District have both come out in strongly in support of keeping the program.

Last year, the city's Public Safety Advisory Board recommended that the SRO program stick around, but made numerous recommendations to better articulate what exactly officers are supposed to be doing on campus.

But as those recommendations came to the council for approval on Jan. 25, numerous public speakers urged council members to forget about changing the SRO program and consider dissolving it altogether. Renee Rashid, a parent and member of Los Altos for Racial Equity, said the survey results show the program should be reevaluated altogether, and that getting rid of SROs will not compromise the safety and security of students on campus. If the role of school cops is to act as mentors and building relationships, she said that could be better accomplished by counselors, teachers and other staff.

"We believe that there are better ways to achieve those goals than an SRO and through the Youth Services Unit programs, for which we have no concrete data about effectiveness," she said.

One student, a Mountain View High School alum, said he believed the city had no intention of ever terminating the SRO program regardless of the negative experiences he and others have had with police at schools, and that the results were preordained. Kalinda Price, a teacher at Los Altos High School, said she had personally witnessed officers escalating situations where students were having a mental health breakdown, and where black and brown parents of families were "disrespected and accosted" by police.

"It just seems like there is a lot of time and effort being put on things that don't support the people who look like me or the people who I serve, and it's outright disrespectful," Price said.

Councilwoman Sally Lieber said she was taken aback by the public comments and was reluctant to support the SRO program going forward. She said she was particularly troubled that the program operates in public schools, where students are compelled to attend, and yet there are no written protocols for how officers are supposed to conduct themselves on campus. She said she does not know what the rules are for questioning, searching or detaining students, for example, and the program does not report out performance data.

"We are data-driven in our other city functions, we do have manuals and protocols that council can see and understand and it's not within a black box that says, 'Trust me, there's something great going on,'" Lieber said.

But for the majority of the council, the SRO program deserves to be fixed and rules clarified rather than eliminated. Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said she was opposed to a "scorched earth" approach, and that police have played an instrumental role in curbing gang activity in local schools over the years. She said there's nothing wrong with having officers as role models, and that it could stand to turn negative perceptions of police into something positive.

"If we got rid of this program we would be taking a step back," she said.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who ultimately voted in favor of the recommendations, questioned whether the functions of the SRO program were really the best use of public safety resources. The combined staffing cost of the Youth Services Unit is close to $1.3 million each year, which she said might be better spent on things like preventing bike thefts or helping the elderly avoid getting scammed.

Councilwoman Pat Showalter said the city ought to take a close look at clarifying the role of school officers, and that there is far too much confusion surrounding the program. Many believe that the primary role of SROs is security on school sites and enforcing the law, which is not the case, and she suggested that a new mission statement be created for the public.

"We need to have some people wordsmith this and get it out in a very clear statement of what's the purpose -- what's the mission for this project," Showalter said.

Comments

Barbara
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Jan 27, 2022 at 2:42 pm
Barbara, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Jan 27, 2022 at 2:42 pm

Smart decision, Mountain View City Council. School Resource Officers are invaluable. Having worked in a neighboring district for 20 years, I can speak in support of the role these officers provide. I personally have three grandchildren in Mountain View schools and am very pleased at this decision. Mountain View PD is one of the best in the country!


Proud Taxpayer
Registered user
Willowgate
on Jan 28, 2022 at 4:17 pm
Proud Taxpayer, Willowgate
Registered user
on Jan 28, 2022 at 4:17 pm

I wish the cops would patrol the lines of cars waiting to pick up kids around our schools. Cars are Illegally parked, idling, with parents staring their phones as kids rush around. These places are accidents waiting to happen.


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