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Time to Rein In Campus Cops

Professor Robert DeKoven

Over the last 20 years San Diego County schools have not experienced the rash of mass shootings that have occurred elsewhere.

It’s not just luck, writes California Western Professor and San Diego State University Affiliated Professor Rob DeKoven ’83 in a recent commentary published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, but much to do with the placing of sworn officers in San Diego schools.

These officers, known as school resource officers, have thwarted hundreds of would be attacks on students, teachers, and staff.

That’s the good news. The bad news, writes DeKoven, is the California courts have given so called “cops on campus” free rein to “step into the shoes of school officials” and engage in practices illegal outside the school gates.

Since 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to settle disputes between state and federal courts over whether peace officers on campus are “school officials” in this context. Some courts find peace officers are in fact “police”—they may not stop, search, or interrogate students without following the same protocols outside school gates.

In 2003, however, a California appellate court (William V.,111 Cal. App. 4th 1464, 1471) held that all security personnel—including school security, school police, school resource officers, and backup officers—are “school officials” for purposes of stops and searches.

This ruling resulted in thousands of referrals to juvenile court, making California the leading state in the nation in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Very often what was once a simple school infraction—running in the hallway or possessing a Sharpie—is now a criminal offense, putting the child into the system.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a disproportionate number of the victims are black and Latino boys.

In response, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) authored a bill to modify the role of peace officers on campus. Her bill died in committee.

It’s time for our California Supreme Court to disapprove of William V, concludes DeKoven. The U.S. Supreme Court should resolve the problem under the Fourth Amendment—the court should restrict school police to their intended purpose: protect the school, counsel teens, promote conflict resolution, and avoid force.

To read Professor DeKoven’s complete commentary in the Los Angles Daily Journal, click here. A subscription may be required.