San Francisco takes lead in defining role of school police, sets limits on interrogations, arrests

As debate over harsh school discipline heats up nationwide, San Francisco is taking a lead role among big cities by formally limiting the role of police on campuses and requiring specific types of training for school-based officers.

The California city known for its progressive politics is putting the final touches this month on a new agreement, or memorandum of understanding, between the city’s police department and schools that’s designed to further restrain law enforcement involvement in routine discipline and ensure that arrests of students are a last resort.

“This is really extraordinary work,” said Matt Haney, a San Francisco Board of Education commissioner, at a meeting of the board this month. “We realize that there is an important role for police officers on our campuses, but only in very specific, narrow situations.”

Karn Saetang, an organizer with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth in San Francisco, said: “We’re putting the responsibility for student behavior back where it belongs, with educators, students and parents, not with police. When police get involved in school discipline, it sends all the wrong messages to students.”

Coleman Advocates, which pushes the city to fund children’s services, helped draft the agreement, along with Public Counsel, the nation’s largest public interest law firm, which has been involved in reforming discipline policies in various cities. 

Two years ago, an armed uniformed police officer was summoned to a school to deal with a 5-year-old who was having a tantrum, action that further upset the child and his family, according to Coleman Advocates.

The new, more restrictive agreement between San Francisco police and schools says: “Police involvement should not be requested in a situation that can be safely and appropriately handled by the district’s internal disciplinary procedures.”

Read the full story at: The Center for Public Integrity