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More weapons found on or near LAUSD campuses last year; rifles and shotguns more than doubled

Mike Szymanski | October 31, 2017

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Weapons found on or near LA Unified school campuses increased by 2.7 percent last year, to 568. The number of rifles and shotguns more than doubled.

Those numbers for the 2016-17 school year were revealed last Tuesday at a special meeting of the school board to review the district’s policy of mandatory daily random searches with metal detectors at all secondary school campuses.

Principals have been instructed to increase the searches this year, after an internal report showed continuing failures in executing the searches and that schools still lack the proper equipment.

Meanwhile, civil rights groups and a coalition of groups that include the ACLU, charter schools and UTLA, the teachers union, have protested the practice, saying that it hampers education more than keeping students safe.

The data presented by School Police Chief Steve Zipperman showed that the number of rifles and shotguns found increased from three to eight last year, and the number of knives and daggers also increased, from 393 to 403. The number of handguns found decreased from 26 to 23.

Knives and daggers remain popular items found on students, according to Zipperman, who said, “In the past seven years, knives and daggers have averaged around 375 a year.”

Hardly any of the weapons were found through the mandatory searches — only a little more than 1 percent of the total — but Zipperman insisted to the board that the policy remains a deterrent for students.

“It is the same if you have a DUI checkpoint in the area, DUIs will go way down overall,” Zipperman said.

But the number of weapons found in LA Unified has not gone down. Instead, it has risen steadily in the three years of data that were presented, from 546 weapons found in 2014-15, to 553 in 2015-16, to 568 in 2016-17.

• Read more: How safe are LA’s schools? New interactive map compares what teachers and students are seeing

The school board is reviewing the policy on the random searches, which are carried out by teachers and administrators, not school police, but if weapons or drugs are found, then school police, or if necessary local police, may get involved.

“Every school board district has weapons being confiscated,” Zipperman said. “It’s happening all over.”

Board member Nick Melvoin’s District 4 on the west side, the most affluent of the local school districts, had the fewest number of weapons found last year (68), with Scott Schmerelson’s District 3 in the San Fernando Valley as the next fewest (132).

The most weapons found on and near campuses last year were in District 7, which stretches from South Los Angeles to San Pedro and is represented by Richard Vladovic (at 230 weapons), then District 2 in the Downtown and Boyle Heights area represented by Mónica García (172), followed closely by District 6 in the East San Fernando Valley represented by Kelly Gonez (171). George McKenna’s District 1, which is predominantly downtown, had 143 weapons found, and Ref Rodriguez’s District 5 in East Los Angeles had 142 weapons found last school year.

“We do not believe that the 30,000 random searches justify the small percent of weapons actually found during these searches, and we are calling for a stop to them,” Amir Whitaker, a researcher at the UCLA Civil Rights Project, told the board members at the meeting. He conducted his team’s own report about the searches.

The school board is considering possible changes in the search policies, but until then, the daily searches remain in effect.

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