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Guest opinion: Scaling back the scope of policing in Mountain View can make our city safer

Mountain View Fire Department vehicles in the Mountain View Police Department parking lot on Oct. 16, 2019. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In the past year, a national conversation has begun about the role of police and the rules that regulate policing. We have seen untold police atrocities, extravagances, and abuses around the country. The Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability (MVCPRA) arose after the George Floyd protests last summer and has spent the past year working to understand public safety here in Mountain View.

We're immensely lucky: Many of the worst failures of policing are not present in the Mountain View Police Department. Consequently, we are in the enviable position of being able to imagine the next steps in improving public safety. We get to think about how to make a good thing better rather than how to restrain the worst impulses of a broken system.

In some ways, though, we are not exceptional: Like in so much of the rest of the country, over the past half-century we have given ever more responsibilities to our police force. In particular, we allow police funding to eclipse $500 per resident per year (compared to a median of $290 per resident for all California cities). Almost all cities in California spend less than $450 per resident on policing, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Scaling back the scope of policing is an obvious change we can make here in Mountain View that will save taxpayers money while making our city safer and more forward thinking at the same time. In particular, we can remove police from public schools and reassign some mental health tasks to relevant experts instead of police officers.

The role of school resource offers (SROs) has become an area of contention in recent years. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, students in schools that have SROs are five times as likely to be arrested as those in schools without SROs. Washington University Law Review finds that students with such infractions on their records are far more likely to drop out and struggle for employment.

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Ostensibly, SROs increase campus safety, but they are not sufficiently trained, prepared, or present to intervene in dangerous scenarios, which invariably unfold suddenly and without warning. In fact, more people die in school shootings where SROs are present than at those where they are not.

So what good do SROs actually do? SROs themselves have told the public about their day-to-day job, describing how their primary roles of "mentoring, teaching, and educating" are hindered by their uniforms and the way students interact with police, as described in the June 24 Mountain View Public Safety Advisory Board meeting.

Based on their own assessment of the role they play, nothing necessitates a police officer fill that role. SROs are involved in incidents where there is a criminal aspect involving children during a school day -- like cyberbullying or teenagers speeding in their cars at lunch -- but they do not need to fill all roles that they currently do.

Even the name school resource officer calls this into question -- why must officer mean police officer? Teachers and counselors receive far more training and gain far more experience related to student needs and relationship-building than SROs do, and SROs spend much of their career outside of schools. Police officers are also paid more than other people who work in our schools, so if the role played by SROs was filled instead with a non-police actor, it would cost the public less. Alternatively, we could hire more people to do the work if these people were not police officers -- a cost-neutral way to expand services in our schools.

Such a step has been taken by our neighboring city Los Altos, which removed SROs from schools very recently. This is an accelerating trend in the region and the nation, and Mountain View should not be left behind. The services SROs provide are largely worthy, but they do not fit neatly into the policing job descriptions. Our police, our students, and our teachers would all be better served by a different system.

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Mental health first response is another area where we as the public would be better served by redirecting calls to someone other than the police. Police, too, are largely unhappy with being the primary responders to such calls. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "police agencies have been required to fill the void created by funding cuts in social and medical welfare systems, which often places police officers in an untenable position."

For decades, mental health services have received funding cuts that leave the police as the only ones left to call when a social worker or mental health professional would have been better trained, resulting in safer outcomes for all involved. Redirecting funding to such non-police systems would free the police force to respond to calls to which they are best suited and also make it more likely that people in a crisis can access the services they need.

The public largely understands this. A national March 2021 survey showed overwhelming support by likely voters for non-police emergency first responders to handle mental health, substance use, health and safety check-ins, and the unhoused population. Where such systems have been tried, they are largely very successful. Santa Clara County has a non-police first response system, but it is biased toward other parts of our county. We would all be better served by the city and county coordinating to expand such a system to better support us in Mountain View. A lot of positive work is underway to create mental health response programs in our region, but so far such efforts are small and not well-publicized. They have much promise and should be given all of the resources they need to succeed.

In order to have the public safety regime we deserve, we must reallocate some tasks to more appropriate actors. This isn't because cops are bad people or policing has failed -- it's because so many things police do today are not tasks we should be asking police to do! MVCPRA calls on Mountain View to follow the lead of Los Altos and other similar cities in removing police from schools, and we urge the city and county to work together to meaningfully reorient mental health first response to trained specialists.

Kelsey Josund is a Mountain View resident and is a member of the Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability (MVCPRA) steering committee.

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Guest opinion: Scaling back the scope of policing in Mountain View can make our city safer

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Sat, Oct 16, 2021, 10:51 am

In the past year, a national conversation has begun about the role of police and the rules that regulate policing. We have seen untold police atrocities, extravagances, and abuses around the country. The Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability (MVCPRA) arose after the George Floyd protests last summer and has spent the past year working to understand public safety here in Mountain View.

We're immensely lucky: Many of the worst failures of policing are not present in the Mountain View Police Department. Consequently, we are in the enviable position of being able to imagine the next steps in improving public safety. We get to think about how to make a good thing better rather than how to restrain the worst impulses of a broken system.

In some ways, though, we are not exceptional: Like in so much of the rest of the country, over the past half-century we have given ever more responsibilities to our police force. In particular, we allow police funding to eclipse $500 per resident per year (compared to a median of $290 per resident for all California cities). Almost all cities in California spend less than $450 per resident on policing, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Scaling back the scope of policing is an obvious change we can make here in Mountain View that will save taxpayers money while making our city safer and more forward thinking at the same time. In particular, we can remove police from public schools and reassign some mental health tasks to relevant experts instead of police officers.

The role of school resource offers (SROs) has become an area of contention in recent years. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, students in schools that have SROs are five times as likely to be arrested as those in schools without SROs. Washington University Law Review finds that students with such infractions on their records are far more likely to drop out and struggle for employment.

Ostensibly, SROs increase campus safety, but they are not sufficiently trained, prepared, or present to intervene in dangerous scenarios, which invariably unfold suddenly and without warning. In fact, more people die in school shootings where SROs are present than at those where they are not.

So what good do SROs actually do? SROs themselves have told the public about their day-to-day job, describing how their primary roles of "mentoring, teaching, and educating" are hindered by their uniforms and the way students interact with police, as described in the June 24 Mountain View Public Safety Advisory Board meeting.

Based on their own assessment of the role they play, nothing necessitates a police officer fill that role. SROs are involved in incidents where there is a criminal aspect involving children during a school day -- like cyberbullying or teenagers speeding in their cars at lunch -- but they do not need to fill all roles that they currently do.

Even the name school resource officer calls this into question -- why must officer mean police officer? Teachers and counselors receive far more training and gain far more experience related to student needs and relationship-building than SROs do, and SROs spend much of their career outside of schools. Police officers are also paid more than other people who work in our schools, so if the role played by SROs was filled instead with a non-police actor, it would cost the public less. Alternatively, we could hire more people to do the work if these people were not police officers -- a cost-neutral way to expand services in our schools.

Such a step has been taken by our neighboring city Los Altos, which removed SROs from schools very recently. This is an accelerating trend in the region and the nation, and Mountain View should not be left behind. The services SROs provide are largely worthy, but they do not fit neatly into the policing job descriptions. Our police, our students, and our teachers would all be better served by a different system.

Mental health first response is another area where we as the public would be better served by redirecting calls to someone other than the police. Police, too, are largely unhappy with being the primary responders to such calls. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, "police agencies have been required to fill the void created by funding cuts in social and medical welfare systems, which often places police officers in an untenable position."

For decades, mental health services have received funding cuts that leave the police as the only ones left to call when a social worker or mental health professional would have been better trained, resulting in safer outcomes for all involved. Redirecting funding to such non-police systems would free the police force to respond to calls to which they are best suited and also make it more likely that people in a crisis can access the services they need.

The public largely understands this. A national March 2021 survey showed overwhelming support by likely voters for non-police emergency first responders to handle mental health, substance use, health and safety check-ins, and the unhoused population. Where such systems have been tried, they are largely very successful. Santa Clara County has a non-police first response system, but it is biased toward other parts of our county. We would all be better served by the city and county coordinating to expand such a system to better support us in Mountain View. A lot of positive work is underway to create mental health response programs in our region, but so far such efforts are small and not well-publicized. They have much promise and should be given all of the resources they need to succeed.

In order to have the public safety regime we deserve, we must reallocate some tasks to more appropriate actors. This isn't because cops are bad people or policing has failed -- it's because so many things police do today are not tasks we should be asking police to do! MVCPRA calls on Mountain View to follow the lead of Los Altos and other similar cities in removing police from schools, and we urge the city and county to work together to meaningfully reorient mental health first response to trained specialists.

Kelsey Josund is a Mountain View resident and is a member of the Mountain View Coalition for Police Reform and Accountability (MVCPRA) steering committee.

Comments

Tal Shaya
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Oct 16, 2021 at 5:50 pm
Tal Shaya, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2021 at 5:50 pm

We can improve services without "defunding the police." Police in schools was a response to many school massacres.

Do you want to make improvements, or do you only want to tear down the old system?

I can assure you that removing cops doesn't reduce crime. Cities that did that experienced a spike in murder rate.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:58 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:58 pm

Tal, which cities removed cops, and by how much? After that, on average, how much did "cities that removed cops" have their crime "spike" versus the national average and cities that didn't "remove cops?"


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:59 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Oct 16, 2021 at 6:59 pm

Thank you for writing this op-ed. While LAHS is in Los Altos, half of its students are from Mountain View. They all seem to be doing fine without SRO, hard to understand why SROs would still be needed at Mountain View High School.


Tal Shaya
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Oct 17, 2021 at 8:24 am
Tal Shaya, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 8:24 am

@Ralph, why offen an opinion when you don't have facts? MANY cities experienced a spike in murders after cutting their police budget. Do you read the news ever? Oakland had over 300% increase in murder rate after defunding the police. That happened in MANY cities. Any fool knows that cutting police services won't reduce crime. Next time do your own homework.

Web Link


Alexander
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Oct 17, 2021 at 10:12 am
Alexander, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 10:12 am

At the PSAB meeting, SROs were asked what were the goals of the SRO program and how did the know if the meet them? They talked about positive connections with kids and told stories, but couldn't produce any quantifiable impact of the program.

I have no doubt that the SROs care about the kids and want to mentor them. But as a taxpayer, I want to pay for programs that have a clear, measurable impact. Given that LAHS was able to remove their SROs without issue, I'd prefer the city save money by removing the SRO program.

They should redirect that money somewhere with an actual measurable safety impact, like improving dangerous car/bike/pedestrian intersections.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 17, 2021 at 12:23 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Tal, I simply asked some questions for you to support your point. That you got so defensive is surprising. I'll take your example of Oakland. As best I can tell, they *increased" their police budget in 2021. Which year did they "defund their police," and by how much did they cut funding?

Can you answer my other questions, too?


Tal Shaya
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Oct 17, 2021 at 12:53 pm
Tal Shaya, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 12:53 pm

@Ralph, I already stated an opinion and provided evidence in a link. It was all over the news that murder rate rose 20% in cities that defunded police. Austin murders rose 50%. Do I need to provide links to you? No. Why are you becoming aggressive? Violent crime is up in Mountain View. Removing the police won't solve that.

And about police in schools, we demanded that presence after many school shootings. Since we had none, then it seems the program is working. Our kids' safety is most important. Obviously Mtn. View can afford to put a cop or two at the school. What is this "my taxes, blah" stuff? Mtn. View is very wealthy. Don't put our kids's safety at risk.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 17, 2021 at 1:35 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 1:35 pm

I don't think it's aggressive to ask you to clarify and back up your statements. I value evidence, but you're right, you don't need to provide links. Readers can make their own judgment based in your unwillingness to do so. You claimed that Oakland "defunded their police", but they increased funding. Austin this year had *record* police funding.

Which cities, to you, did not "defund their police?"


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 17, 2021 at 7:19 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 17, 2021 at 7:19 pm

This essay demonstrates the fallacies that can come from uninformed speculation. Not all school resources officers are the same. Some high schools in other cities have multiple sworn and armed police officers on duty on campus every day. Mountain View is a small city with only 1 high school. The funding of school resource officers is already way lower than in these cities alluded to where so many student arrests occur. This may well relate more to the communities local crime or socio economic situation than it does to having SRO's. The local case is a less troublesome one.

Los Altos High School half serves Mountain View, and it has a single school resource officer who is not there all day long every day, but has other duties at other schools in Los Altos. Recently there was talk of increased the Los Altos city police SRO positions above 1, but that was rejected. Mountain View has a similar level of staffing, but Mountain View High School has slightly fewer students than does LAHS. The comparison of either LAHS or MVHS to nationally typical high schools needs to be more nuanced than this essay attempts.


Alexander
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:35 am
Alexander, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:35 am

@LongResident:

LAHS has *no* SROs. The city of Los Altos voted to remove the program. Mountain View has three full-time SROs, as well as a YSU coordinator and sergeant.

If you are interested in learning more, I'd encourage you to attend PSAB meetings, which are open to the public (I believe you can dial in via Zoom or stream on YouTube). Here is a link to the PSAB meeting where SROs were discussed: Web Link

For me, I'm disappointed with the SRO program's lack of concrete objectives and measurable outcomes. I'm not against all taxes, but I do want to make sure we get bang for our buck. The police summer program, for example, teaches safety skills to ~100 kids/year - and is the kind of program I'd be willing to support (especially if they did a better job tracing the impact on the kids).


roaksinri
Registered user
another community
on Oct 18, 2021 at 3:11 pm
roaksinri, another community
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 3:11 pm

I'm sure if the writer did some research, they will discover that the County Mental Health Response teams always have local police present as back up when responding to calls in the community. The preferred model that is currently in use is for over the phone de-escalation. If a situation calls for in -person response, the mental health folks will have PD back up for their own safety. You cannot keep the Public Safety Departments from being involved in Public Safety. It is amusing to read people wanting "metrics and quantifiable data" in regards to the impact of SROs in the schools. They perform basically a security function. The role is as a deterrent to criminal behavior. Let's face it- our children can commit crime at the schools or have predators come on campus and victimize them. In the absence of SROs, the onus is on the teachers to fulfill that role or lay person "school yard monitors".


Miriam
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Oct 18, 2021 at 5:28 pm
Miriam, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 5:28 pm

@Tal: My understanding is that police officers were brought into Mountain View school campuses in the 70s in response to a wave of property crime committed by youth in the community.

@roaksinri:
I've had conversations with a number of MV police officers who would like even more of the mental health work to go to county mental health professionals and away from police, but the county teams don't have the staffing or funding to fill the need. There is a new county program in development to provide mental health response without police, but it hasn't rolled out yet. In any case, I would love to see mental health response programs expanded to support both our community and our police officers.

It's interesting that you see the SROs as chiefly a security force. When I've heard presentations from SROs, they emphasize that their main function is to connect with and mentor kids, *not* to be a security force. I think understanding that -- whether SROs are on campus as a security force or a mentorship program -- is key for evaluating the program in our city. I personally still find it confusing, which gives me concerns about the program.


Tal Shaya
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Oct 18, 2021 at 5:38 pm
Tal Shaya, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 5:38 pm

@ralph, those cities did reinstate police funding because defunding the police led to a sharp spike in violent crime. You are welcome to your opinion, but not your own facts. Here is one link.

Web Link

Yes it's is a conservative site, but it's referencing FBI statistics. I can post links all day and it won't convince you. You want to play games.

@miriam, it may be that program has been in place for whatever reason. I know nobody wants cops at MVHS. But we experienced a massive wave of school shootings a while ago. That's the reason for the police presence. Safety.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Oct 18, 2021 at 6:54 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 6:54 pm

First, my name is Randy, not Ralph.

Second, my pointing out errors, unsubstantiated assertions, and misleading statistics is not "my own facts."

Third, if your claim is that "defunding the police" led to increases in crime, it should be easy to compare cities that "defunded", ones that didn't, and the national average for increases in violent crime over that timeframe. The Heritage Foundation article does no such thing. I'm not playing games, this is the basic starting point for how one reasons about the world for complex problems.

With such a strong effect, it should be easy to demonstrate that difference, but I can't even get you to tell me any cities that didn't "defund the police." Did all of them?


Raymond
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:40 pm
Raymond , Monta Loma
Registered user
on Oct 18, 2021 at 9:40 pm

Kelsey Josund says "We have seen untold police atrocities, extravagances, and abuses around the country." It's actually a pretty large country, and we have seen a handful of police/citizen contacts that went bad. The modest number is evidenced in the millions of people outside the US who would like to enjoy our levels of safety and security. Having a police force operating is a prerequisite for civilization.

The nation-wide effort to estrange the population from its police arises here as an effort to remove police from a high school campus. This reduces young citizen contact (person-to-person and observational) with our police. That makes it easier to falsely demonize police through propaganda aimed at a more naive citizenry. Hostility between police & citizens is not desirable.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 8:32 am
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 8:32 am

I'm generally in agreement with the ideas put forth in this article. However, I have to point out a specious argument. The article says that schools with SROs have more crime than schools without them, implying that SROs fail to reduce crime. But as the saying famously goes, "correlation does not imply causation." Can you think of any other reason why we might observe a correlation between crime and SROs? A plausible hypothesis: the schools with more crime tend to be assigned more SROs.

The real argument would be to compare crime rates at schools before and after SROs we're assigned, or compare similar schools that did or didn't get SROs assigned. Obviously a randomized controlled experiment would be the most conclusive.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:54 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 9:54 am

As a former MVWSD Trustee, I supported a resource officer (police) being permanently assigned to our middle schools. (Crittenden and Graham). This is not necessarily mean 100% full-time but the students and the faculty and the administrative staff had a GO TO person that they were familiar with - to deal with possible criminal issues.

Yes - there are possible criminal issues that schools, and teachers and kids have to deal with!
Examples here - rape (late after hours at Castro field), robber-possible shooter in neighborhood requiring 'shelter-in-place', child molestation, possible teacher inappropriate sexual involvement, shooting death of a high school student, shooting at high school students on El Camino THIS YEAR! (MV Voice artile link below)
Web Link

CHAC (Community Health Awareness Council, an official community-government quasi-corporate entity [Joint Powers Authority] ) tries to deal with student mental health issues on an ongoing basis. But CHAC is definitely not a major crisis-intervention agency.

More 'policing agency' resources for handling mental health-criminality related interventions? Of course. But that Does Not Necessarily mean no SROs. (IMO)


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm

In Los Altos, the single city-wide School Resources Officer has responsibility for 16 schools in a manner similar to what Steve Nelson describes for the Middle Schools in Mountain View. The budget is smaller in Los Altos but the same principle of the SRO covering multiple schools is in effect.

At the same time, at LAHS, the district has private security officers of its own. Some sort of change to put more district-paid security time into LAHS is under development, but the SRO is going to end up being the liaison for the private officers and the police department. Maybe this is a distinction without a difference. There never was staffing such that one could expect a police offer to
always be present at LAHS during school hours. There are really very few officers on duty in the Los Altos PD during any shift. They denote one of them as having SRO duties but really he's just another daytime officer on duty. He can get called to other incidents if needed. He's the first one to respond to issues at any school and he is charged with knowing the schools so as to provide perspective for any incident that arises, even when say 2 other officers respond at the same time.

At Margorie Stoneman Douglas High school during the Parkland mass shooting, there were private security officers AND 2 sworn armed police officers on duty. This is a different situation than ever existed locally. The sheriffs department in Broward County Florida is HUGE. The environment there can't be compared to the local situation even though the Parkland population is similar to Los Altos. Parkland has no police department but utilizes the Broward County Sheriff for law enforcement. This is an example of how broad strokes can yield false impressions.

However you slice it, having a single SRO in Los Altos to cover 16 schools does not equate to the same level of SRO policing as found in one famous instance. Parkland was not unusual in the level of SRO personnel, but Los Altos is low.


Nora S.
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Oct 20, 2021 at 9:58 am
Nora S., Rex Manor
Registered user
on Oct 20, 2021 at 9:58 am

Interesting topic, but I think this article would be more useful if it had more information in it. For instance, how many SROs are assigned to schools in Mountain View? Which schools? Have the SROs been involved in any incidents? According to the replies here, MVHS has SROs but LAHS does not. Does MVHS have more violence as a result? Is the LAHS system, with private security, preferable? How? Can you illustrate these ideas with local examples? Bottom line: I think we should make decisions based on data rather than ideology.


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