Reports: LASPD Accused of Profiling, Sexual Harassment, Excessive Force

School Cops 'Out of Control'

The story of the attempted lynching of an officer by Jeremy Marks in December brings to light the many problems within the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD). Some of its officers have been described by activists, parents and children as "rogue" and "out of control."

The Mark's case raises important issues about the school police department and the unnecessary criminalization of youthful behavior.

Several organizations have expressed deep and ongoing concerns over the treatment of school children by some LASPD officers and the refusal by Administrators in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to address the problem.

The Labor/Community Strategy Center issued a report in January 2010, written by Community Rights organizer, Kendra Williby, calling for reform within the Department. Williby spoke to over 1500 children who reported accounts of "serious police misconduct, excessive force and restraint, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, intimidation, frequent and indiscriminant use of mace and pepper spray on large numbers of students, racial profiling, handcuffs used on students' whose "crime" was being late, frequent searches, and more."

Reports indicate that there are several schools in LAUSD where children are subjected to misconduct by officers and that for several years there has been little to no accountability for the strong-arm tactics used on students during and after school.

1) Federico, a disabled father, translates for hundreds of parents from what he calls "feeder" schools. In December 2009, his son Danny was with his friend, William, at Danny's home. During the visit, William stole a fishing knife and took it to school the following Monday and at some point during the day gave it to his teacher to ‘hold' for him.

After school, the teacher questioned William about the knife. He told her the knife was Danny's. Danny was forced to write a confession and plead guilty. Danny was sentenced to do 50 hours of community service and see a counselor for 20 hours.

2) In January 27, 2011 Federico's daughter and her friend asked another friend for a dollar for some chips. The friend didn't have a dollar. The teacher overheard the girls and took Federico's daughter and her friend to the office. The teacher told the staff that the girls were trying to extort a dollar from student. The school police were called to arrest the girls.

They were handcuffed and taken from the school and booked. The charges were robbery and extortion. Federico said he was not notified of this for hours. Her case is still pending.

3) On January 25, 2010, Jafet, another student, was arrested by school police on the charge of robbery. Jafet was in class with his teacher and classmates at the time of the robbery.

His parents write, "After many hours of being handcuffed in the LASPD office, Jafet tried to call us. School personnel told him that he could not call. Jafet was then taken to the North East Police station, where he spent many more hours without communication with us.

We got a call from the LASPD officer, letting us know what had happened to Jafet. The officer was very rude and told us only that Jafet was arrested and in trouble and told us that we did not have the right to talk to our son.

The Officer told us that Jafet was taken to the NE Police station and did not tell us the reason for his arrest. It was not until January 28, three days later, that we were finally able to find out that he was arrested for robbery and we were able to see our son Jafet. Our son, Jafet spent a total of 36 days in jail.

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, Jafet, was FOUND INNOCENT of robbery."

4) Lissett Lazo, Community Rights organizer, recounted her terror when she thought her friend would be choked to death by a school police officer.

"My friends and I were hanging out in a semi enclosed area at school. The school police officer, who was there at the time, told us we had to leave.

One of my friends had a lot of books with her and was having trouble getting them all together.

The police officer began screaming at her to hurry up. The police officer grabbed her and choked her. We were shocked at what was going on. My friend dropped her books because she couldn't breathe. She was turning red. We were telling the cop to let her go. The cop let up but kept her in that choke hold and dragged her all the way to the office.

A week later my friend was transferred to another school. Nothing happened to the police officer."

5) Tony knows some admitted gang members. He goes to school with them. One day he was riding in a car with a gang member and the two were stopped by police because they looked suspicious.  Another officer later told him that his name was entered into the CalGang System.

Tony insists he is not a gang member. The POLICY and PROCEDURES for the CALGANG® SYSTEM have certain criteria which must be followed. If a name is entered into the system erroneously there does not appear to be any means, other than a lawsuit, to remove that name.

Tony is worried that if in fact he is in the system, it will affect his chances to earn a scholarship, or even get a decent job.

6) One unnamed mother recounts the story of her son who did graduate from high school but who, even after graduation, has been stopped by LASPD officers while walking on the streets.

During his senior year of high school, he had bruises on the insides of his ankles for months where officers kicked his legs apart to search him- often for no reason.

7) In the Marks case of May 2010, around 1:30 p.m., an LASPD officer approached a 15 year-old student for smoking a "hand-rolled" cigarette. Student accounts of the incident allege that the officer watched the kid go to purchase a cigar and after he came back to the bus stop, she approached him from behind.

According to the police report written at 11 that night, he threw hard gang signs at her and spewed a stream of profanities before she exited her vehicle. The prosecution did not interview any of the witnesses yet have persevered to incarcerate Marks at any cost. (Video-Jeremy Marks mother tells the story here. )

A number of parents, students and education activists had made formal complaints about the treatment of students by LASPD officers only to have their complaints ignored and the officers involved go unchallenged. No investigation. No discipline.

The role of police in schools, according to Williby, should focus on non-punitive forms of student accountability, decreased reliance on courts and citations, guaranteed civil rights protections, and increased use of public health- and mental health-centered interventions.

Steven Zipperman, who became the Chief of LASPD in January, has pledged to insure the leadership team put in place will be responsive to all community, parent and student concerns. All complaints of misconduct and uses of force will be thoroughly and quickly investigated, he promised, and adjudicated with the proper review and oversight.

Zipperman offered these assurances, "We will review our approach to truancy and zero-tolerance enforcement. It's possible that what might be considered minor violations can best be handled by school administrators."

The Chief has already met with some of those demanding reform. He says he will hold regular community forums in each local district to continue the discussion of complaints and issues with groups and stakeholders.

To paraphrase, all these parents and their kids can't be wrong. The rap sheet of complaints and reversed actions is too lengthy to be ignored. Zipperman has his hands full in trying to restore some luster, credibility and trust to his department. The community is impatiently watching and waiting to see if he passes the test.