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California bill would required armed police at all K-12 schools

Redlands Unified employs two school resource officers at local high schools

Proposed California bill would required armed police at all K-12 schools. (Photo: JasonDoiy from Getty Images Signature)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new California bill would mandate police presence on all K-12 school campuses. California Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Corona) unveiled the proposal at a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in response to a concerning trend of school shootings.

Why it matters: Formally known as Assembly Bill 3038, the controversial measure would mandate the presence of at least one armed officer, commonly referred to as a school resource officer (SRO), on school premises during school hours and other times when students are on campus. The proposal has sparked a contentious debate over whether police at schools make students safer. 

Details: During the press conference, the Riverside representative emphasized the urgency of the measure, stating that California had witnessed a staggering 96 school shootings between 2018 and 2023.

"If we want to get serious about preventing school shootings and stopping them before they can happen, we need good guys and girls with guns, ready to act," asserted Essayli.

However, the proposal has drawn sharp criticism from civil liberties advocates concerned that police presence may perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. In particular the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has voiced strong opposition to police presence in schools. 

A 2021 study details the perils of increased law enforcement presence on school campuses. According to the report, which highlighted harmful and discriminatory policing practices, school police exacerbate the criminalization of students, particularly those from marginalized communities.

The study found that schools with assigned law enforcement officers have significantly higher arrest rates among Black, Latino, and disabled students compared to schools without such personnel.

  • Black students' arrest rates were reported to be 7.4 times higher
  • Latino students faced rates 6.9 times higher
  • Students with disabilities experienced rates 4.6 times higher. 

Zoom out: On Thursday, Feb. 22 the Chicago school board voted to remove police officers from public schools. The school board cited the goal of creating “emotional safety” for students. 

Since 2020, the number of school shootings in the US has nearly doubled pre-pandemic levels leading other school districts to reverse course and put police back on campus. A recent PBS News Hour report points to districts in Maryland, Colorado and Virginia who have made a return to School Resource Officers following school threats and shootings. 

Campus safety in Redlands: Redlands Unified School District (RUSD) employs two SROs from the Redlands Police Department through an agreement with the city of Redlands. The officers are responsible for improving safety for students and staff at Redlands High School and Citrus Valley HIgh School.

The Redlands City Council voted to renew the program in 2021. Redlands chief of police at the time, Chris Catren, emphasized that the program differs from traditional models focused on enforcement. Instead, the city and the district collaborate on ways to best serve students while improving safety. 

“There is training and curriculum specifically for school resource officers,” said Catren. “It’s a competitive selection, and we tend to pick people who are mature in their careers, who have been on the job for many years and have a good understanding of what this job entails and what it takes. This program is about being a role model for students, helping them succeed and allowing for a safe environment for kids.”

Through the memorandum of understanding the district reimburses the city $360,000 per fiscal year for both officers assigned to the resource officer program. 

The program was extended in 2021 by a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Jenna Guzman-Lowery dissenting.

Moving Forward: The three-year agreement between district and the city is set to expire in 2024.

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