Officers reduced at Sacramento City Unified schools as district renews police contract

The Sacramento City Unified school board voted Thursday night to cut the number of school resource officers on district campuses by more than half while renewing its contract with the Sacramento Police Department.

The new contract approved Thursday also called for the hiring of a school safety director, to be filled later.

The school board voted 5-1, with Leticia Garcia the only member in opposition and Mai Vang absent for the vote.

In past years, eight sworn officers from the Sacramento Police Department were assigned to patrol campuses across the district. The role of these school resource officers, or SROs, was to ensure campus safety, including responding to fights, threats and firearm violations.

The new plan will reduce the number of law enforcement officers from eight to three, plus a police sergeant. The three officers will roam multiple schools in their designated areas, and officers will not be stationed at specific schools.

The new school safety plan will cost $1.4 million, including $608,000 for the officers. The district is in the red and has been struggling to balance its books, but officials said their decision to cut officers was not tied solely to the budget. Rather, they said, the district was looking at new models for school safety and law enforcement’s role on its campuses.

The decision came after months of discussions among community members, activists, teachers and the school board.

The contract ended June 30, weeks after dozens of Sacramento students and community activists urged the district to sever ties with the Police Department and stop allowing officers on campus. Activists from from the grassroots organization Brown Issues called the partnership a way to facilitate a “school to prison pipeline” for students of color.

Some at Thursday’s meeting criticized the district’s decision to consider and approve three roaming officers, saying they were under the impression that discussing new ways to address school safety would include not renewing the contract.

“We started with the word ‘divestment,’” said Garcia. “Reimagining schools without an SRO didn’t happen. It’s SRO-lite.”

Community organizers including Carl Pinkston of the Black Parallel School Board said they hoped that the new school safety plan would mean more campus monitors and social workers.

But some teachers pointed out that campus monitors typically don’t break up fights, and police officers do.

Community member Loreen Pryor said that officers often are blamed for overpolicing, “but no, it’s the administration and staff because they’re calling the officers on to campus.”

The district’s plan would be to train staff, campus monitors, and police officers on implicit bias. But activists and community members at Thursday night’s meeting questioned whether there would be enough money left to conduct thorough training.

Sacramento City Unified has contracted with the city Police Department for the past nine years, during which time concern in the district about law enforcement presence at school sites has been growing. Some district students have expressed fear over having a police officer stationed at their school.

At the same time, concerns about school safety have increased.

Many teachers and parents who spoke at the board meeting in support of the officers on campus referred to recent mass shootings across the country. The fatal gun attacks at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, and in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, prompted more security at outdoor festivals and reignited conversations about public safety.

Rosemont High School teacher Julie Snider said she was concerned because eliminating the officers from her campus means the Sacramento Police Department no longer will be the school’s designated law enforcement agency. Some schools, such as Rosemont High, are outside the city’s border, falling within the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction.

“The response time won’t be quick enough,” Snider said.

Law enforcement responds to various calls including assault, firearm violations, intruders, welfare checks and threats. Site administrators respond to defiance, profanity, failure to participate in class, loitering, possession of alcohol and marijuana, altercations, and possession of a tool that could be used as a weapon.

Follow more of our reporting on Sacramento City Unified in Crisis

See all 9 stories
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.