The Sacramento City Unified School District is considering fully divesting from the Sacramento Police Department.
The district currently has a contract for a little over $500,000 with the police department, set to expire on June 30. But in light of recent nationwide discussions and the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, advocates and some board members are now calling for the district to not renew this contract.
“For the entire district, Black students only represent 15% of the student population, but they represent 35% of all arrests,” Carl Pinkston, executive director of the Black Parallel School Board, said. “So once you have one arrest, one traumatized student experience, any interaction with the police, that is your first touch with the school to prison pipeline.”
The Black Parallel School Board, in conjunction with the Sacramento City Teachers Association, Brown Issues, Sacramento ACT and Hmong Innovating Politics, have renewed efforts to push the district to fully divest from the police department.
In the past, Sacramento City Unified has had as many as 20 Sacramento police officers on campus, also known as School Resource Officers, or SROs. Recent efforts from community groups have slashed that budget from $1.5 million two years ago to its current contract for $563,097, and taken the number from eight officers to three. But during a board meeting last November when a contract renewal was discussed, school board Vice President Christina Pritchett worried that taking officers out of the district entirely would have a negative impact.
“SROs on campuses build relationships,” Pritchett said. “It’s not just a cop coming to a school that doesn’t know our students, and I truly feel, in my heart that if we do not have SROs on campus we’re going to see a higher rate of students arrested, because those cops that come on campus do not have the relationships with our students.”
At a contentious board meeting last week that included over 300 public comments asking the district to end its contract with the Sacramento police, board members said that the contract renewal would not be included in this Thursday’s budget approval. They say this means the current contract will end, and a new one would need to be negotiated if the district wanted to continue having police officers.
Board President Jessie Ryan stated during the meeting that this would mean no contract renewal for the following year.
“I want to be clear, we are asking that at the next board meeting, our final adopted budget not include an SRO contract. We are adopting a budget that does not allocate any remaining funds to the SRO,” board president Jessie Ryan said.
But advocates worried that this didn’t necessarily mean the district would divest in the police department, and were concerned the board was pushing the discussion to a less emotionally-charged time. Pinkston said he wanted to hear an actual verbal commitment that they would not renew the contract.
“We’ve been there before, they’ve made oral commitments before and they’ve reneged on it, so what I’m anticipating is they may possibly do that again, given the moment that we’re in they have to say and do something,” Pinkston said. “But once this dies down, I think they will try to find a way to re-introduce the police department.”
Sacramento City Unified has been looking at policing alternatives in tandem with a smaller police presence over the past few years. The district has rerouted some money previously allocated for the police department to training staff on restorative justice practices and the creation of a director of school safety position.
The district declined to make an official comment, but stated the potential to end their contract with Sacramento police is one they’d been discussing for many years.
The Sacramento Police Department declined to comment on their contract not being renewed, but issued a statement.
“Our School Resource Unit works closely with school staff to ensure that our students have a safe place to learn. The safety of our community, including our schools, will always be a priority for the Sacramento Police Department,” the statement read.
An ACLU report from last year shows that a disproportionate number of students with disabilities and Black students are often referred to law enforcement through SROs.
David Fisher, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said he supports not renewing the contract.
“We don’t have infinite resources, we think it makes a lot more sense to invest the resources we do have on the front end, and measures and resources help the educators and students themselves solve problems before they get started,” Fisher said. “Oftentimes if things happen on campus, like a fight or arguments, if a social worker or school psychologist that’s helping to handle the situation, then there’s not a police record. But if there’s a police officer, that’s what they’re trained to do, and oftentimes you end up with a record even before you graduate from high school.”
The district said they are currently facing a $27 million budget deficit.
Board members said in addition to an ending of the Sacramento Police Department’s contract, they hoped to continue discussions around how to improve school safety in other ways.
Correction: This story has been edited to clarify that the school district says its deficit is $27 million, not the teachers union.
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