Los Altos task force to recommend elimination of SRO program

STORY BY GIL RUBINSTEIN, PHOTO BY TOMOKI CHIEN

The Los Altos Citizens’ Police Task Force is set to advise the City Council to permanently eliminate the school resource officer (SRO) program from Los Altos High School. The task force chose to leave the creation of a replacement up to the Council, hopefully before students return to campus in person. 

Formed in August, the task force is charged with presenting the Council with a recommendation regarding SROs at LAHS as well as the police complaint intake process; the Council will vote on the task force’s recommendations next Tuesday, November 24. 

The Council can then decide how to move forward with the recommendation by choosing to either accept the task force’s recommendations, outright reject them, accept certain parts of the recommendation or write up its own plan independently.

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

SROs are officers from the police department assigned to school campuses, tasked with campus safety and increasing positive relations with high schoolers. Typically, the SRO assigned to LAHS is only on campus upon specific request from school administration, but they may also come on campus unofficially.

Recently, a handful of LAHS graduates have come forward with incidents in which they say they were discriminated against by the school’s prior SRO, which is in part what pushed the Council to reassess the SRO program in the first place. 

“Really, we have no data at all to show that the initial objective of SROs has been effective,” task force member Toni Moos said. “Studies nationwide show that having SROs increases interactions that youth have with the criminal justice system. SROs are not doing the job they were intended to do, so schools across the country are taking SROs off their campus — I believe we should follow suit.”

Moos, the mother of three LAHS alumni, said that all three of her children had “negative experiences” with SROs during their time as students. 

The task force voted 7–2, with members Janet Corrigan and John Fennell dissenting, in favor of eliminating SROs. The dissenting members expressed concern that removing SROs would not fix the problems that were brought before the task force.

“The principal of LAHS will still be calling the police, but the officer that will respond won’t be used to responding to the high school,” Fennell said. “The LAPD might still come onto the campus … it’s clear that she relies on the SRO to carry out her responsibilities. We should weigh heavily what the principal tells us — she wants to even have a larger presence.”

Both MVLA District Superintendent Nellie Meyer and LAHS Principal Wynne Satterwhite have expressed a desire to expand the SRO program at previous task force meetings, citing campus safety benefits; the LAPD, however, lists building positive community relationships as the program’s primary goal.

LAHS alumnus and activist Kenan Moos delivered a prepared speech during the public comment portion of the meeting, criticizing the dissenting members of the task force and asking City Council to accept the recommendations that will be presented next week.

“For too long we have spoken and relived our traumas,” Moos said. “For too long we have been told you are listening and that changes will be made. For too long our voices have been outspoken by white people in this area. Their beliefs, ideals, and racist rhetoric have dictated our lives, oppressed us and terrorized us. There is no more waiting, no more delaying, no more ignoring.”

CITIZEN COMPLAINT INTAKE

The task force will also present the City Council with a reformed complaint process in which citizens can file complaints with an unspecified third-party auditor instead of the LAPD directly. Currently, all complaints with the Department are filed and reviewed internally. 

In the Department’s current setup, all complaints are filed as either “formal” or “informal”; a formal complaint will lead to an internal investigation by the LAPD, while the consequences of an informal complaint are up to the discretion of LAPD staff. According to Captain Katie Krauss, informal complaints are often discussed with the officer involved, but the Department does not store records of those complaints or how they are handled.

Task force members raised the possibility of police officers encouraging citizens to lodge complaints as informal as opposed to formal, though no evidence was raised to support this concern. 

The task force will recommend that citizens be able to change a complaint from informal to formal after initially filed.

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