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CPS Dodged Reforming Police In Schools For 2 Years, Inspector General Says. Now, District Vows To Do Better

For five hours Thursday, aldermen grilled CPS and CPD officials about why they failed to address concerns about police in city schools.

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CHICAGO — For nearly two years, local leaders have had a road map to overhaul how the city uses Chicago police officers in its public schools.

But in that time, city officials and police have dragged their feet in fixing widespread problems, inconsistencies and misunderstandings about how the program should work, Inspector General Joe Ferguson said.

On Thursday, Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Police officials fielded questions and comments from aldermen and Ferguson in a five hour hearing that questioned the role of police in schools and called for more transparency from CPS and Chicago Police Department.

Thursday’s meeting revisited a September 2018 report from Ferguson that blasted the lack of transparency on how the school resource officer program is managed. Ferguson’s report established several clear goals that would improve the program, such as requiring initial and ongoing training for school officers.

Police officials agreed with some of Ferguson’s recommendations and ignored others, like establishing performance evaluations for school officers, he said.

Further, city and department leaders only pledged to make the changes a year down the road, in accordance with the federal consent decree guiding reform of the department.

Ferguson said the department used the consent decree as a “shield to slow readily achievable reform that they acknowledged was actually needed.”

“CPD’s failure to act more expeditiously left students, teachers, parents and community stakeholders without the protections and assurances of an appropriate school safety program for another entire school year,” Ferguson said.

City officials sat on their hands, too.

A city ordinance required the City Council to hold a hearing on the 2018 report. That didn’t happen until Thursday, almost two years later.

That delay, Ferguson said, caused residents to question the legitimacy of the city’s oversight efforts and turned a “how-to moment” for reform into a “whether moment.”

‘I’m a little dismayed that there’s such a lack of answers’

For weeks, community activists have urged city leaders to remove police from schools, saying it creates a school-to-prison pipeline for primarily Black and Brown youth.

Other cities throughout the country have committed to pulling officers from schools in the wake of national demonstrations protesting police violence. 

Last week, the Chicago Public School Board narrowly voted to not sever the school district’s $33 million contract with the police department.

There are 72 CPS schools with full-time resource officers, CPS chief of security Jadine Chou said Thursday. Other officers, including sergeants, are on call for nearby schools. Additionally, there are between 1,100-1,200 security officers throughout the district not included in the $33 million contracts.

Ferguson said an overview of police incidents near schools suggest there’s a disparate impact on Black and Brown students, but the district doesn’t even have accurate numbers on how many students are arrested by school resource officers.

That said, of the nearly 3,000 people arrested on or near school grounds since 2017 more than 78 percent were Black and 17.9 percent were Latinx, he said.

Of those stopped by police in or near schools, 51 percent were Black and 31 percent were Latinx.

There were 355 incidents involving use of force since 2015, 81 percent of the subjects were Black and 14 percent were Latinx.

“These numbers are indicative of sort of this larger concern of disparate outcomes or impacts in terms of criminal justice or law enforcement actions associated with schools,” he said.

Chou and Barbara West, deputy superintendent for the Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, both defended the program but acknowledged more work needs to be done to implement the recommended changes. 

“We have now codified the expectations, the goals, all the important things that have been deficiencies in the program in the past, and we are on our way to making it a better program,” Chou said.

Chou said the program now mandates resource offices not intervene in routine school discipline, calls for over 50 hours of training for officers and sends complaints to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability to investigate rather than the informal process of previous years.

They vowed to share data on spending, arrests, misconduct complaints and other concerns moving forward.

But Chou and West could not answer several questions about the program, including how many students are arrested inside CPS schools every year and how many complaints were received about school resource officers.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS officials have repeatedly said Local School Councils should have the final say over whether schools should have police officers on campus, but when asked how many schools with resource officers actually have a Local School Council, Chou could not provide answers.

“I’m a little dismayed that there’s such a lack of answers that for things that when you know there’s a hearing, you would imagine something as basic as ‘how many employees’, ‘what the cost looks like,’ that those things…there would be more preparation,” Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said.

The meeting was not meant to debate removing officers from schools, but some weighed in on the issue anyway.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th) said she believed the money could be better spent.

“We’re investing money on stuff that’s not really helping our kids,” she said,”we need to start investing that money differently to help kids,you know, with social, emotional needs first, so they don’t get to the point where they need a police officer to lock them up,” 

While most aldermen questioned the presence of police in schools, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) said the decision should be left to Local School Councils and parents, not aldermen.

“I don’t think I should be sitting here listening to someone who wrote a college thesis on why they don’t think police should be in schools, when me as a parent, I feel comfortable with police officers in school,” he said.

The school board will vote on whether to renew the CPD contract with CPS in August.

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