Bettering Our School System Campaign Wins Police Accountability

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February 21, 2013 by mishagabrielle

On Feb. 13, Black Organizing Project members gathered at an Oakland Unified School District board meeting to hear the first official report on complaints made against the Oakland School Police Department (OSPD) for their conduct.

OSPD Chief James Williams addressed the board of directors to report on four complaints that had been filed against the school police in 2012. Two of these complaints were from high school students and the chief himself initiated the other two, but each of the complaints were sustained.

First, a Fremont High School student filed a complaint against a Site Security Officer (SSO) after the officer placed a “twist lock” on the student’s hand without provocation, leading to an altercation between the student and SSO. The student alleged battery against the SSO and while the officer denied striking the student or using force, surveillance video of the incident proved otherwise.

The second student complaint came from Castlemont High School, when an SSO initiated a “tug of war” with a student over his skateboard. The report describes that the student allegedly charged at the SSO after having his skateboard taken and the SSO responded by grabbing ahold of the student’s arms, forcing both parties to fall to the ground. Video surveillance recovered as evidence showed the SSO actually lifting the student up and slamming him to the ground.

In addition to the student complaints, the chief initiated the investigation of two other incidents. One involved allegations against the department by a former OSPD officer who claimed to have been employed under a hostile work environment. While that claim was unfounded, the report sustained the allegations that another officer had been receiving a food gratuity from a local business; an additional officer had been found asleep on duty; and the department failed to complete his evaluation form, an indicator of failures in his training.

Finally, a female adult complainant alleged that an OSPD officer had sexually assaulted her at an off-campus location. According to the report, the matter is still pending.

The department’s complaints process and reports policy was passed Jun. 27, 2012 as a result of a community organizing effort on behalf of the Black Organizing Project’s membership and legal partners ACLU-Northern California and Public Counsel.

“BOP members did extensive research, outreached to hundreds of residence and brought together community members to develop a vision for a better school system,” said Jackie Byers, BOP Executive Director. “The work that members did made it possible for a new policy that allows students, parents and community members to hold police accountable and to provide transparency to the public. The work of ordinary people is the story behind this policy and the continued progress towards Bettering Our School System.”

Chief Williams noted that four complaints for the year was relatively low saying, “We contact thousands of people on a yearly basis, and to have four complaints, two of them initiated by the department, shows that we’re professional out there.”

Jasmine Jones, Staff Organizer for BOP, addressed the board and community during public comment to bring up several concerns about the implementation of the policy.

“While the chief has noted that there are only four complaints, we believe that it’s too early to make an accurate assessment of how officers interact with students. Although the policy was passed in June and required to be made available in every school, posted and accessible, the policy is not in total compliance,” said Jones.

Jones and BOP youth member Joevonte Kelly, monitored eighteen Oakland schools in February to see if the complaint policies were available and if staff and the student communities knew about the policy which gives them a way to file grievances against police officers, SSOs, and other school police staff. None of the schools monitored had the policy posted, except for Castlemont High, where BOP held a public education drive and handed out the policy in Sept.

“Last fall the district admitted that the policy had not been distributed district-wide, but committed to doing that by the same time students came back [to school] in January,” said Jones.

At the meeting, Jones urged the board to fully implement the policy that was created to make sure all members of the school community were being treated fairly. The policy also ensures that the school police department as it currently exists, is operating in a way that is transparent and accountable.

The school board agreed to report on implementation of the policy at the next school board meetings. The superintendent also suggested that the chief’s semi-annual reports include not only the complaints themselves but also progress on implementation.

“We have a lot of room for improvement and I want to continue that,” said Williams, “I want to continue some training with our school security officers with conflict resolution… and I look forward to our partnership with the Black Organizing Project, ACLU, and Public counsel.”

Currently, the Black Organizing Project and its advocacy partners are working with the district and Chief Williams to ensure full-implementation of the policy to re-create the department’s data-collection system to effectively track interactions with students.

Relevant links:
Video– OUSD Board Meeting 2/13/2013 ref. item # 13-0259

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