Los Angeles Unified School District’s Police Department

April 29, 2012  •  Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

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.

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