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LA School Police ticket more than 33,000 students; many are middle schoolers

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The police working for the L.A. Unified School District, the largest force in the country, came under scrutiny in recent months over charges that they were ticketing a disproportionate number of black and Latino kids for truancy. Now the school police are under fire over another issue: how many tickets they give out for a variety of infractions, and to whom.  

The Labor Community Strategy Center analyzed data provided by L.A. Unified on how many tickets school police handed out from 2009 through 2011.
What they found is that, in that time, school police issued more than 33,500 tickets to youths up to 19 years old. That's an average of 28 tickets a day over the three years. These include tickets from fighting to truancy, loitering and even possession of markers that could be used for tagging.

Zoe Rawson is a legal advocate with the Center, which spent over a month breaking down the raw data. She said the analysis reveals that students are cited at very young ages.

“When youth transition into middle school, there’s a major increase in the frequency of which the citations are given out,” she said. “And they are primarily for the types of behavior that schools have disciplinary methods and interventions that should be in place to keep them in school and keep them out of the criminal justice system.” 

While relatively few kids under 12 get tickets, the numbers start climbing dramatically at 12. The citations for kids from 12 to 14 make up nearly 40 percent of the total tickets given out. Rawson said they also seem to be for infractions that were once the purview of teachers and school administrators.

From the Labor Community Strategy Center:

Students are cited with frequency at very young ages
  • Students as young as seven years old received a citation;
  • Middle School students represented approximately 24% of all citations;
  • 745 citations were issued to students between the ages of 7-11;
  • Citations increase dramatically for students at age 11, they make up 648 of the 745 citations for ages 7-11;
  • Citations increase significantly each year with 2259 issued to 12-year-olds, 4061 issued to 13-year-olds and 6234 issued to 14-year-olds;  and
  • Between 42% - 44% of citations issued to 11 -13 year-olds were for Disturbing the Peace;

Students who receive citations are sent to a special court, where a “referee” – rather than a judge – decides whether to impose a penalty, such as a fine.

But budget cuts are forcing the closure of those courts at the end of June. Which means once they close, a probation officer will decide whether a case should go to juvenile delinquency court, which is more like adult court.

Rawson said that’s problematic because there’s a body of research showing that introducing a youngster into the legal system can increase his chances of getting into more trouble and eventually dropping out of school.

In an article by Susan Ferriss on the Center for Public Integrity web site:

Among those who have expressed concern is Judge Michael Nash, who presides over Los Angeles’ juvenile courts, and has actively supported reforms to reduce police citations for incidents he believes should be handled in schools or through counseling or meetings with parents outside court.

“How much time do our courts have to deal with these kids? I don’t think this has been effective, and it has dealt with them in a superficial way,” Nash said.

District Police Chief Steven Zipperman says there are good reasons why kids in middle school get a lot of tickets.
“They typically are the age group that we find violates certain things that we typically enforce more often than some of the kids that are in high school,” he said. 

In a written statement, L.A. Unified said it hopes that getting a ticket will help a student learn from his mistakes.
The Labor Community Strategy Center says the data also show that school police are giving out a disproportionate number of tickets to black students compared with white students — although Chief Zipperman disputes that.

From the Labor Community Strategy Center:

An overrepresentation of Black students6 is present for the majority of offense categories and is particularly high for younger students and certain categories of offenses
  • Approximately 18% of the total citations for school-age youth were issued to Black students;
  • Approximately 29% of the Disturbing the Peace citations were issued to Black students;
  • Approximately 31% of the Failure to Comply with a Peace Officer citations were issued to Black students;
  • Approximately 31% of Habitual Truancy citations under the Ed. Code were issued to Black students;
  • Approximately 38% of citations for students ages 7-10 were issued to Black students;
  • Black students represented at least 47% of the citations for Disturbing the Peace issued to 11- year-olds, 35% issued to 12-year-olds and 28% issued to 13-year-olds; and
  • Black students are slightly overrepresented in the category of substance possession, at least 12% of those citations, and appear to be slightly underrepresented in the vandalism and graffiti categories.

However, overall citations have been trending down over the past three years. Down by about 2,000 tickets.
For now, the Labor/Community Strategy Center is calling on the LAUSD to impose a moratorium on all tickets, especially in light of the pending closure of the informal juvenile courts.

From a letter they sent to Superintendent Deasy, School Police Chief Zipperman and all board members:

“…we believe an immediate response is called for tht includes a moratorium on citations until the data can be comprehensively reviewed and a plan is I place to decrease discriminatory impacts and overall citations by at least 75%.”

School Police Chief Zipperman doesn’t think that’s a good idea. “To just say let’s put a moratorium on writing tickets or citations, because right now there’s budget issues that do not allow courts to intervene, to me, that’s not solving the problem.”

So far the District has not responded to that request.  

This report was co-reported by Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity.