Days after a horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, left 19 children and two teachers dead, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho announced that increased safety measures will be put in place to protect L.A.’s students from being murdered by a gunman. These measures will include an assessment of access to the district’s campuses and, potentially, a phone app featuring GPS to aid first responders in the event of such an emergency.
But the measures don’t include an armed police officer stationed at each school or a person there, every day, who could potentially protect students in the event of a shooter on campus. That’s because in February 2021, after months of protest and a pressure campaign following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the city’s Board of Education unanimously approved a plan to cut a third of their school police force—this was part of a massive overhaul of the LAPD that came that year.
Instead of cops and security professionals at L.A. schools, it was announced with the vote results, officers would monitor schools and respond to emergencies as they occurred moving forward.
As we’ve learned since the killings in Texas, that sort of action plan doesn’t work.
It was 11:28 a.m. when the 18-year-old gunman arrived at Robb Elementary and began firing rounds into building’s windows before he entered—completely unobstructed—and quickly barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom. Many calls were placed to 911 and the school district police officer who had arrived in response “drove right by the suspect” as he tailed another suspect, who was in fact a teacher, as Steven C. McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety revealed on Friday.
Just after 12 p.m., nearly 20 police officers were outside the classroom in the school’s hallway. But none of them made any effort to breach the fourth-grade classroom door, where the gunman had murdered so many children over the course of 78 minutes. While the official timeline of the events in Uvalde has shifted, and may still, the police force’s commander has now said he believed there was no one at risk in the room. This, unbelievably tragically, was not true.
McCraw said on Friday that children were still inside the classroom with the gunman, and that some of them had called 911 multiple times. Gunfire and other violent sounds could be heard on these emergency calls.
The day after Robb Elementary, which came 5 years and 3 months after the horrifying massacre at Parkland High School left 17 dead, shock and sadness were palpable in schools across the country. So was the outrage of parents at many schools across the city as they learned that funding that could prevent this horror from happening to their children in an L.A. school has been diverted.
On Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Robb Elementary mass murder, an already on-the-books community school meeting at Gardner Street School in Hollywood had what was likely record attendance. Parents, many of whom had driven their children to the school that day, stuck around to get some answers about exactly what Gardener does to protect their kids and how administrators will be stepping this up after another mass killing of children has stunned the nation.
They didn’t like what they heard. In what was shocking news to many of the parents, administrators reminded them of the February 2021 school board decision that removed officers from schools. One Gardner parent, who asked LAMag that they not be publicly identified, explained how this was discussed at Wednesday morning’s tense meeting.
“They’re basically saying that there’s an intimidation factor with what’s going on with the perception of cops. They were kind of tacitly saying, ‘We don’t really endorse this process,’” the parent said, describing the explanation given by both the school’s principal and two police officers who were there to promote a summer program for kids.
“If you look at the [news] stories about this, it’s not like there’s a big buy-in from the schools on this decision—they don’t like the idea that there’s no officer on campus.”
But in early 2021, plenty of people who work or are taught in L.A.’s schools very much liked the idea. The February 2021 decision to cut these officers came after a lengthy campaign by students and teachers to have police removed, as they believe that the 470 civilian armed and uniformed officers placed at every high school in L.A. disproportionately targeted Black and Latino students—a sentiment that was backed up in a study by a UCLA professor.
Police officer presence in schools dates back to the 1940s and was widely seen in the 1960s as schools were integrated. Then they became more commonplace throughout the 1980s amid the war on drugs. In California, that decade’s conservative leaders allowed schools to deputize their own police forces, with L.A. Unified codifying its force in 1984. Cops roaming the halls of schools became even further normalized after the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999 through the Parkland High School mass shooting nearly 20 years later.
However, incidents of excessive and violent force on students by these frequently armed policemen and women—referred to as school resource officers in some districts—began to make negative news over the past 10 years. Bruised students, kids with sprained ankles, and even one teen being choked until he passed out, led to outrage, and led the ACLU to take on abuse by school officers as a cause. Pressure to reduce police power in schools increased in 2014 as the authority to punish students for things like tardiness and dress code was stripped from officers; in 2019, the ability to conduct random student searches by officers was removed by the school board.
But the movement to oust police from schools gained a tsunami of momentum as the Black Lives Matter movement crescendoed in the summer of 2020. In June of that year, the Los Angeles teachers union’s leadership voted to support eliminating the $70 million budget for the Los Angeles School Police Department. That money should be used for counselors, school “climate coaches” and baking in restorative justice programs, reform supporters said at the time of the vote; some of these solutions have been implemented since.
However, the decision to defund and remove officers from schools—which was ultimately up to the seven-member school board, who authorize police spending—was not without debate. The L.A. school police association—along with a newly-formed coalition of Black school police officers—were opposed to the defunding, while the parent organizing group CADRE and the Youth Justice Coalition were in support of a major overhaul that would protect minors from the police. The complexity of this decision was certainly heightened after 2020’s massive protests, as horrific footage of Floyd’s murder had brought direct action into the streets, and attitudes towards police shifted across the nation. Elsewhere, similar eliminations of school resource officers and defunding of police budgets were being seen in cities like Oakland and Portland, Oregon.
Now, with their kids back in classrooms after years of remote learning that the pandemic demanded, attitudes of Los Angeles’ parents on the matter may swing back toward erring on the side of security—particularly after we learn what exactly went down in those 78 minutes of police inaction in the hallway outside the Rodd Elementary classroom where children and teachers were being slain.
The Los Angeles Unified School District told LAMag on Friday afternoon that they have no plans to change security across the district other than the access assessment to ensure reduced points of entry that was mentioned in the news release they put out this week.
At Gardner Street School, which is right off of Sunset in Hollywood, local skateboarders who gather nearby have broken a hole in the fence that quartered off the school, the parent of a Gardner student said. The school was relatively safe from public entry, they added, aside from its parking lot. The parent went on to recall a recent incident in which a disoriented-looking unhoused man had wandered off of Sunset Boulevard toward the kids outside.
“He was saying, ‘I have a bomb’ and he was yelling at the kids. The gate was still open at this point,” the parent recalled. “There’s no security there. You can walk right up to it.”
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