Beginning this school year, the Police Department and the San Francisco Unified School District will have a more centrally coordinated relationship.
For years, school resource officers have centered on forming positive associations with students. Data released last month by the SFUSD revealed that student arrests on campus dropped from 195 in the 2010-11 school year to 94 in 2013-14 — a number school and police officials hope will continue to decrease this coming school year due to a bond recently redefined between police and the school district.
In February, the Board of Education approved the district's first memorandum of understanding with police in four years that identifies procedures for school resource officers to respond to campus incidents.
The decision capped a years-long effort from community groups to define protocol between police and schools after the district's previous agreement expired in 2010.
The new program increases communication among students, families, school officials and police, and calls for reports on arrests to be shared. Police are also encouraged to avoid “unnecessary incrimination” in alignment with the district's effort to favor restorative practices over penalties, such as suspensions.
“We are moving from a system that was very punitive in nature to one that is focusing on our relationship with students and being more compassionate,” said Kevin Truitt, an associate superintendent with the district who worked on the new memorandum.
Lt. Colleen Fatooh will coordinate the school resource officers program at the Police Department, which will fall into the youth and community engagement unit.
Under her leadership, school resource officers will spend more time working to forge positive relationships with students at schools, conduct safety and drug awareness presentations, and unless absolutely necessary, avoid getting involved in school discipline issues.
“I'd like to be able to do more work in elementary schools, and let students get to know officers in the community … so the kids see the officers in a positive light,” Fatooh said.
Fatooh plans to hold regular meetings with student resource officers, as well as with deans and principals on a monthly or bimonthly basis, “so we can really get a handle on the school climate,” she said.
The memorandum also spells out the protocol should a school need to involve the authorities or if an officer arrests a student on campus to make the incident as least disruptive as possible. Per the memorandum, parents will also be called if a student is being questioned by police on campus.
Kevine Boggess, director of youth organizing for the community group Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth that championed the new memorandum, said the agreement is stronger than the previous one implemented from 2005 to 2010, in part because this time, officers will not be stationed at schools.
“We didn't want to have police stationed at a school. That could create a negative climate,” Boggess said. Instead, police “have a relationship with the school, check in with the principal. They would be the first car to respond to something at the school because they have a relationship.”
While the number of on-campus arrests is down, the district continues to see a disproportionate number of minority students who run into trouble with the law. This past school year, there were 29 and 26 total arrests on campuses of black and Latino students, respectively, compared with three arrests of caucasian students. Additionally, more male than female students were arrested on campus last school year.
Laura Faer, the statewide education-rights director for the Public Counsel Law Center who helped craft the memorandum, emphasized the long-term harm an arrest can have on a youth.
“Once a young person is in the juvenile justice system, it's almost impossible for them to come out,” she said. “One arrest doubles your chance of dropping out.”
Fatooh also hopes to increase the number of school resource officers from 19 this past school year to 25. For the past decade, the department has assigned between 20 and 30 school resource officers to district campuses each school year.
But the coming school year will bring a stronger, more synchronized relationship between their efforts and the school district. She is still ironing out the details with the district to determine the needs at schools and communities.
“We are working a lot around developing really strong safety plans at the schools,” Fatooh said. “We are really going to be concentrating on strengthening our partnerships … and enhancing the quality of life for the students.”
The new memorandum is in effect through the 2018-19 school year.
Student arrests down
Arrests at SFUSD school sites have dropped each of the last three school years: