After a two-week delay, the Pleasanton City Council finalized a revised memorandum of understanding for the city's long-running school resource officer (SRO) program last week.
At the request of Vice Mayor Julie Testa earlier this month, the public hearing about the MOU between the city and Pleasanton Unified School District was continued to the Nov. 16 council meeting, where it passed unanimously after more than two hours of discussion and public comment.
Following the slaying of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year, some students, parents and staff members at PUSD said Pleasanton's SRO program needed reforming, with some advocating to completely discontinue the program, which has been run by the city for almost 20 years.
Mayor Karla Brown weighed in before voting last Tuesday evening. "I look at the school resource officers, Pleasanton Unified School District, as a partnership and a resource," Brown said. "A resource for the schools, a resource for the students, a resource for the parents as well."
Brown reminded the community that "these are officers that are sworn to uphold the law. They are well-trained to do so and that's really why they're on campus, is to keep everybody safe."
"I'll use the term 'guardian for safety,' which I think is one of the terms that was used in the 21st Century Policing Act," Brown added. "They are guardians of safety for schools, so the students can go to school, feel safe, and come home and not have to worry about illegal activities at their school campus."
Before heading to the council, the draft MOU was "amended to include specific language on access to student records and a definition of de-escalation strategies," according to city staff. Minor language to the program's goals that references relationship-building between students and on-campus police officers was added, as well as clarification about releasing student records to non-school officials or employees.
Per the suggestion of PUSD, the definition of de-escalation on Page 8 of the MOU was also expanded to mean "the process of using strategies and techniques intended to decrease the intensity of a situation including, but not limited to, using restorative practices, verbal and non-verbal communication techniques and non-confrontational practices to gain control."
Though "supportive" of amending the program's goals, city staff said "changing the definition of de-escalation to include restorative practices is problematic," and instead suggested removing the reference to restorative practices and "inserting the words, 'when possible' prior to non-confrontational practices."
During the discussion, Testa said one thing that the community requested "was to avoid interviewing or apprehending students at a school for non-school related issues, and there was a similar thing about arresting on campus for non-school related offenses."
"Do we do that?" Testa asked. "That kind of took me off-guard. So if a kid, there's some accusation, a charge off-campus, would our SROs take control of it on campus?"
Police Chief David Swing, who has overseen the Pleasanton Police Department since last year, said he doesn't "know if specifically the SROs would take control."
"If there was an off-campus incident that occurred, it is possible, if we could locate the student other than at school, that we would interview a student as a witness -- clearly not as a suspect because the law doesn't allow that," Swing said. "If that was a last resort, we would use the presence of school as a resource to do that."
When asked by Testa if the law allows witnesses to be interrogated, Swing replied, "It's a custodial interview as a suspect in a crime. The law allows for officers to interview victims and witnesses without consulting an attorney."
"There is a valid concern here with this, and what they're asking is that once again, that our students not be confronted on-campus. That's not language that you would entertain?" Testa said.
Swing said he wouldn't "because I don't want to tie the hands of our officers, if we needed to interview someone on campus, as opposed to having to track them down elsewhere."
"Because there are times when that happens," Swing added. "If a serious crime is being committed in our community and we need to interview someone at school in order to help solve that crime, I don't want that to be a hindrance to community safety."
Testa said, "Everyone supports student safety, community safety, our officers' safety, but there's a very different feeling to how Ed Code addresses on-campus dealing with these issues, where Ed Code is really trying to make sure that the campuses don't become the center of the law enforcement process for students."
"This entire MOU really is very law enforcement-focused, and even to the point where there are repeated points where it is saying that while the SROs can't interview students because the administrators can, it then directs that the administrators will share that information," Testa added. "There's a lot of language about sharing that information, which I believe very strongly that the wording in Ed Code is suggesting otherwise."
However, the vice mayor said "the process of this MOU is a good one because we became aware of some things that should not be happening," such as students receiving criminal consequences for certain behavior on campus.
"Both this program and the (mental health) crisis response program are very important in identifying that we needed to reset some of the policies and processes, so I appreciate very much that this is attempting to do that," Testa said.
The MOU expires June 30, 2024. Costs for running the $417,094 program, including two full-time officers, will be funded by the city.