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New ‘diversion’ program helping keep LAUSD students out of court

Mike Szymanski | October 21, 2015

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A new LA Unified police diversion program, which replaces arrests with counseling, is keeping hundreds of students out of the city’s criminal justice system.

“If we didn’t have this program, a lot would have gone into a courtroom and before a judge,” said LAUSD police chief Steven Zipperman, in a presentation yesterday to the district’s school board Successful School Climate: Progressive Discipline and Safety Committee.

In his report, Zipperman cited data showing that more than half of all arrests made by school police at LAUSD are Hispanic males, representing 52 percent of all the offenses recorded in the last school year, according to a new report from the district’s police department. The second largest arrest group is Hispanic girls, at 19 percent.

Together, they account for more than 70 percent of the school arrests from the Hispanic population, a figure generally consistent with the demographics of LA Unified, in which 74 percent of the students are Hispanic.

This is the first time such statistics were compiled, by age, race and kinds of offense.

“Obviously we take a look at the percentages, and we are not that far off from what the actual student population is,” said Zipperman.

The two exceptions, he said, are African Americans and whites.

The district has an 8.4 percent black population, and the arrests of black students were at 21 percent. The district has a 9.8 percent white population in schools, but only 2.8 percent of the arrests are of white students.

Over the 2014-2015 school year, district police issued 460 arrest diversion citations. Of those, 306, or 66 percent, completed their diversion program through counseling and referral programs.

“I think that’s pretty darn good in the first year,” Zipperman said about the success rate of the program. “We are taking look at factors those students not able to complete the program.”

About 7 percent of students failed to comply with the program and were referred to the county probation department; the remaining students are still in the counseling phase of the program, committee members were told.

Committee member Maisie Chin, executive director of the parent organization CADRE, said she was concerned about the race disparities and wondered if there were any success stories the district could promote that would involve African American males.

“I just want to bring that to our attention, we have a chance to lead,” Chin said. “I want to make sure we are looking for our own gaps, and we are rigorous and inclusive, and asking our own questions.”

Michelle King, the chief deputy superintendent who is a member of the committee, said, “This is the perfect opportunity to dig deeper.”

PoliceChief Steven Zipperman

Meanwhile, Zipperman said he was concerned that the proliferation of pot shops and the increasing legalization of marijuana is tougher to explain to youth as a violation of school laws. “It becomes more difficult when society becomes more tolerant,” he said. “Young people look at it as if it’s no big deal and maybe only an infraction. That is the part that will be challenging.”

Half of the arrests are for possession of marijuana, followed by 29 percent for battery, 10 percent for vandalism, 5 percent for fighting and 4 percent for a minor in possession of alcohol.

Board member Mónica García, the committee chair, said “I’m concerned about drug use. I think we have big challenges.”

The largest number of offenders, 39 percent, were 15 to 17 years old; 34 percent were 13 to 14; 18 percent were 12; 6 percent were 11, and 3 percent were 10.

Among those aged 12 and younger, most offenses were for battery, then marijuana possession, then vandalism.

From July of this year through to Oct. 7, the police issued 41 arrest diversions, and so far none of them has been referred to probation for not accomplishing the program.

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“Most of young people failing is just not showing up and getting involved in it,” Zipperman said. The students can’t get to the program because of transportation issues or a lack of understanding of what would happen if they didn’t go to the program and were sent to the probation department.

The police credit the FamilySource Partnership program, which conducts in-depth educational and psycho-social assessments by their Pupil Services & Attendance counselor.

Students Jesse Ramos from Bell High School and Valerie Mendez from the Maywood Academy participated in the substance abuse program and shared their experiences. The counseling officials said they made positive changes in their lives.

Zipperman added, “I am amazed how we can reach out to many, many more young people with resources we did not have three or four years ago.”

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