Los Angeles Juvenile Defense Attorney

Archive for the ‘Los Angeles County Juvenile Court’ Category

LAUSD School Citations Receive Greater Scrutiny

Monday, May 21st, 2012

The Center for Public Integrity has published an excellent article discussing the citations issued by the police force for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The article, entitled, “Los Angeles school police citations draw federal scrutiny,” describes how the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education is reviewing the practice of having police forces issue citations to students in connection with in-school conduct.

As discussed in a prior entry, these citations may involve minor misconduct, but can begin to create a criminal record for even young children.  Russlynn Ali, the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, articulated the standard criticism of having police officers be involved in minor offenses.

“Generally speaking, in all but the most serious cases we would hope that district officials review a range of options … before referring students to the court system,”

It seems like the Obama Administration is, from a policy standpoint, on the right track.  But school discipline and law enforcement is an overwhelmingly local issue.  Ironically, one of the incidents that garnered the most attention took place at the Barack Obama Global Preparatory Academy in Los Angeles.

The incident started with a dispute on the basketball court and ended with the arrest of a 12-year-old, who later became my client. Here is how the Center of Public Integrity reported on what happened according to the young man’s father.

My son and a friend had gotten into a physical altercation over a basketball game, and school staff had summoned not parents, but police officers. Neither boy was injured, and the school ended up suspending his son for only one day, Johnson said. But officers wrote up a court citation and decided, on the spot, to also handcuff and arrest Johnson’s son as the alleged aggressor — after what Johnson believes was only a cursory look into what had happened.

So what did the court system do?

The court put the Johnson boy into an informal diversion program of four sessions of anger-management counseling, asked him to write a book report and urged him to continue to get good grades.

This is exactly the kind of “punishment” that could and should be handled by teachers and administrators. As a Los Angeles juvenile defense attorney, I know that it is prohibitively expensive and foolish to process these kinds of cases through the juvenile justice system. There is a growing consensus about this, which includes an increasing percentage of juvenile court judges. It took six months for me to get this case dismissed. That was the right result, but what a waste of resources, and what a misguided way to handle school discipline.

There are limits as to what the well-meaning officials of the Department of Education can accomplish from Washington. Their scrutiny can be helpful. But ultimately it will be up to local residents and officials to change the policy regarding the issuance of citations by school police forces.  That change won’t happen until more people are aware of the problem.   That is why I commend the Center of Public Integrity’s continuing efforts to shed light on this issue.

 

Los Angeles Unified School District’s Police Department

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

The Los Angeles Unified School has its own Police Chief. His name is Steven Zipperman, and according to press reports, he heads a police force of 340 officers and staff.

The School District’s police force has been busy.  Between 2009 and 2011, they have issued more than 10,000 citations a year, a quarter of which are given to middle school students. These and other data were obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and first appeared on their website.

So what’s a citation?  There are different views.  Here’s Mr. Zipperman’s:

“A student’s first contact with school law enforcement usually occurs in middle school. Hopefully, the contact is positive and the student learns from whatever mistake was made. . . . [A] citation is an educational tool. .  .  .”

Jesse Aguiar,  a 20-year old community organizer who is affiliated with the Youth Justice Coalition has a different view. He received  his first citation when he was 11.  Here’s how he remembers reacting to the citation:

“It was like a dream come true to me,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood where I listened to Snoop Dog and that stuff. When I got a ticket from police, I felt that I was official.”

Which of these quotes sounds more authentic, and which one seems like it was lifted from a 1950s television sitcom?

There is one sense in which citations given to students, especially middle school students, can be said to be educational.  Too often the citations are the where teenagers get first-hand knowledge of the juvenile system. As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles who represents juveniles, I can tell you that citations have a nasty side effect.  A citation that is given for a minor incident, such as being disruptive in class, can mushroom from a little problem into a big problem.  As Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the juvenile court in Los Angeles,  notes, the citations can lead to misdemeanors:

Nash, the presiding juvenile-court judge, said many kids don’t tell their parents about tickets, and never show up in court. Their fines can accumulate into thousands of dollars, and they can face a misdemeanor charge for failing to appear.

This is not the kind of education we should be providing to our middle school and high school students.