Criminalizing Kids

Published — May 4, 2012 Updated — June 16, 2015 at 9:47 am ET

Los Angeles students protest school police citations that hit blacks, Latinos

Data shows 40 percent of kids’ tickets to kids 14 and younger


Los Angeles public-school students rallied Thursday against the large volume of court citations they have been issued for seemingly minor infractions, including tardiness, having a marker or “tool” for graffiti and for acting disruptive.

The citations, issued by the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department, have been the subject of recent stories by the Center for Public Integrity. Television station KTLA in Los Angeles covered the rally, posting on its website that: “The Center for Public Integrity took a closer look at exactly how school policing is being done, and their findings are raising some major concerns.” KTLA describes some of the Center’s findings from an analysis of three years’ worth of citations recently released by the school district police.

More than 40 percent of 33,500 court summonses issued to students between 10 and 18 went to students 14 and younger. African American students, 10 percent of enrollment, were 15 percent of those cited last year and 20 percent in 2010. The district’s school police force, with 340 sworn officers and staff, is the largest in the nation.

Southern California public radio station KPCC, which co-reported a piece on the citations with the Center, also covered the students’ protest rally Thursday. KPCC reported that some community groups believe a moratorium on ticketing should be declared until the district completes a thorough analysis of the data. One of those groups, the Labor-Community Strategy Center has released its own analyses of the new citation data. KPCC reported that school police don’t plan to stop ticketing.

Zoe Rawson, a lawyer representing ticketed students, said she is concerned that planned closures of what are called “informal” juvenile courts in Los Angeles this summer due to budget cuts will end up sending more ticketed students to full-blown delinquency court. Right now, students cited for low-level infractions are typically summoned to informal courts to appear before “referees,” but do not face prosecutors.

Rawson and other student advocates have worked with juvenile court judges, police and Los Angeles’ city council to adopt new standards limiting the practice of citing students for daytime curfew violations when they are clearly on their way to school.

Ticketed students said they had sometimes overslept or arrived on late buses and were only tardy by minutes. They complained they missed more school time while police handcuffed and searched some of them. The police sweeps were concentrated at low-income schools; students were summoned to court — missing more school — and faced fines of more than $250.

Michael Nash, presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s juvenile courts, has told the Center he prefers more of an emphasis on counseling — rather than sending kids to court — to try to prevent low-level fisticuffs and other misbehavior.

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