Criminalizing Kids

Published — May 3, 2012 Updated — June 16, 2015 at 9:48 am ET

LA school police chief voices reasons for ticketing young kids, radio station reports

Thousands of kids summoned to court


In a new report by KPCC public radio and the Center for Public Integrity, Los Angeles’ school police chief voices his thoughts on why officers who patrol the region’s schools issue a large volume of tickets to middle-school students.

“They typically are the age group that we find violates certain things that we enforce more often than some of the kids who are in high school, whether it is possession of (marijuana and cigarette) paraphernalia, vandalism, fighting,” Chief Steven Zipperman told Southern California-based KPCC. “They can be a variety of different things.”

The Center recently obtained and analyzed 2009-2011 data for all low-level citations issued by Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department officers. The department of 340 officers and staff is the nation’s largest school police force.

The Center’s analysis found that more than 33,500 citations were issued in three years, with more than 40 percent going to children 14 years and younger. One of the more frequent reasons for citing a student was an allegation of disturbing the peace, which can range from fisticuffs to disruptive or threatening language. These citations often includes fines, and require students to appear in court, during school hours, along with at least one parent or guardian.

In written responses attributed to Zipperman, the school district told the Center that with citations “hopefully the contact (with police) is positive and the student learns from whatever mistake was made.”

Zoe Rawson, a lawyer with the Labor-Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles, told KPCC and the Center she was concerned that behaviors once addressed by school administrators have become police matters. Rawson, who has defended students, told KPCC: “There is such a dramatic increase in the presence and the role of police in relation to student conduct as soon as you enter middle school.”

Research is mounting, Rawson said, that introducing young students to the court system actually increases their chances of getting into more trouble later and eventually dropping out. Michael Nash, Los Angeles’ presiding juvenile court judge, told the Center he was concerned that too many students were being summoned to court, which he said was an inappropriate forum to address many types of behavioral problems.

On the national level, the Obama Administration has also expressed concern about referrals of students to law enforcement. The U.S. Department of Education is requiring that school districts start reporting student arrests and court citations so educators can better understand the scope of the phenomenon. The Los Angeles data, which was not submitted to federal officials, is the first from that region to reveal a range of detail about citations.

The data was released to the Labor-Community Strategy Center and other community groups that have been working with school and city police to reduce daytime curfew tickets that officers were issuing in large numbers to kids arriving tardy to schools mostly in low-income neighborhoods.

The 33,500 citations issued in 2009-2011 were all summonses to appear in one of Los Angeles’ informal traffic and juvenile courts. However, because of budget cuts, those informal courts are slated for closure this summer. Some citations could now be referred to delinquency courts, a forum that Rawson is believes is even more inappropriate to deal with much student behavior.

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