Less handcuffing, more counseling is working, says Chief Zipperman
Craig Clough | February 4, 2015
Close to 300 LA Unified students who would have ended up in the criminal justice system for minor infractions in years past have been successfully diverted from it this school year, Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven Zipperman told a school board committee yesterday.
The effort toward a reduction in student citations and arrests, part of the district’s commitment to restorative justice techniques, began in August and is connected to the district’s School Climate Bill of Rights, which was passed in 2013 on the strength of studies that demonstrate reducing student suspensions, expulsions, citations and arrests can lead to an increase in graduation rates and student achievement.
Under the new policy, officers with the LA Unified police department made efforts this school year to reduce student citations and arrests, referring offenders instead to administrators or to a Los Angeles FamilySource Center for counseling and intervention.
Through Jan. 16, the police department has taken part in 297 diversions, a total that includes 209 citation diversions and 88 arrest diversions for battery, Zipperman reported to the district’s Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee. In years past, these students would have ended up in the criminal justice system for the same infractions.
Of those 297, 232 are still in the intake or counseling phase, 52 have successfully completed counseling and 13 were referred to probation, Zipperman said.
“As we continue to get more of our young people into these programs and work to reduce the number of arrests and citations, we really are hopefully getting to the root of the problem and helping our young people work through some issues,” Zipperman told the committee.
Perhaps silencing any critics that might say the softer disciplinary approach could lead to a rise in student criminal behavior, Zipperman said there has been no significant increase in the type of violations the diversion effort targets. The violations are considered “minor” offenses such as fights, thefts, truancy, vandalism, tobacco use, alcohol use or possession of a small amount of marijuana.
“It’s also important to understand that the crimes we are talking about, they are not increasing,” Zipperman said. “Because our young kids are going to these centers and getting the help, we are not seeing the recidivism issues.”
The reduction in arrests and citations comes after the recent news that LA Unified had reduced suspensions in the 2013-14 school year by 25.5 percent, credited to the district being the first in the state to ban “willful defiance” as grounds for suspension.
Committee member Dave Mitchell, a county probation chief, applauded Zipperman’s report and pointed out that the number of children in the county’s juvenile halls, juvenile camps and group homes has been more than cut in half from five years ago.
“[The reduction] is because of efforts like the chief’s and LAUSD’s of keeping these kids out of the system, and I applaud your efforts,” Mitchell said.