Los Altos' police task force recommends elimination of school resource officer program

After six weeks of discussion, the Los Altos Citizens’ Police Task Force recommended the elimination of the school resource officer (SRO) program at Los Altos High School along with the implementation of a third party to conduct intake of complaints and feedback regarding police officers.

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Los Altos' Citizen's Police Task Force recommended the elimination of the school resource officer program after six weeks of discussion.

The recommendations were sent to the city council, which will discuss them at Tuesday’s council meeting. LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court of California judge who moderated the task force meetings, will make the presentation to the council.

Persuasive opinions

Of the nine members of the task force, seven voted in favor of recommending the removal of SROs from the high school.

“Eliminate the SRO program at Los Altos High School and the city encourage MVLA to investigate and implement other non-police models to foster overall student well-being and create a safe and equitable environment,” the recommendation read.

The task force, which the council formed in October in the wake of a town hall in which community members voiced concerns about local policing following the death of George Floyd, heard from students, teachers and school administrators during their meetings. Police captains also sat in on the meetings to provide background information on the department and answer questions. The task force received data regarding SRO activity on campus and conducted a survey among high school students about SROs, though it only received 28 responses.

The police captains and school administrators – Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District Superintendent Nellie Meyer and Los Altos High School Principal Wynne Satterwhite – presented a generally positive review of the SRO program and talked about the necessity of fostering relationships between students and police officers.

But a majority of the task force was swayed by personal stories shared by both current and former students, as well as teachers at Los Altos High. The anecdotes alleged instances of officers mistreating students and staff of color, creating a pervasive fear of law enforcement on campus. Task force members deemed that goals of the SRO program as presented by the city were not being met, and that the presence of SROs might in fact be serving as a negative influence on students.

Kenan Moos and Kiyoshi Taylor, two Los Altos High school graduates who shared stories with the task force of traumatic interactions with officers near campus, urged the council to follow the recommendation and eliminate the SRO program. The two helped organize large protests in the area for racial equality and police accountability following Floyd’s death, and have repeatedly told their stories in public forums.

“Enough talk,” Taylor said. “Actually listen to us and take action. We’ve been doing this for six months and we’re still saying the same damn stories.”

Moos, whose mother, Toni, is on the task force, plans to organize protests if the council doesn’t adopt the recommendation. He has spoken at numerous council meetings this year addressing policing issues, but didn’t believe the council has been listening.

“It’s like it went in one ear and out the other,” Moos said. “There’s nothing that happens from it. It’s like they’re immune to it. They’re numb to it because it doesn’t affect them. Us resharing these stories just means us reliving these bad things.”

Police feedback process

The task force also had a number of recommendations aimed at making the police officer feedback process more welcoming and transparent. The members unanimously supported implementing a method to file complaints against police officers online, and to allow for complaints to be made to an independent third-party auditor. Currently, complaints against the Los Altos Police Department are filed to the department itself.

The members also agreed to recommend changing wording in the police department’s brochure on how to file a complaint, so that it would indicate that an officer who was proven to have violated department policy “will” instead of “may” be disciplined.

And the task force supported providing outreach to the community on how to file a complaint, such as prominently displaying such information in non-police public spaces like city hall or the high school. As part of this recommendation, the task force asked that at every pedestrian and traffic stop, officers provide information on how to file a complaint.

Mayor Jan Pepper and Vice Mayor Neysa Fligor, who are part of a subcommittee on the matter, have attended each of the task force meetings – though they didn’t indicate how they would vote on the recommendations Tuesday. The council unanimously approved the formation of the task force but limited its scope to studying just the SRO program at the high school and the process of filing complaints, indicating a lack of desire for a drastic overhaul of the police department.

Moos said his message to the council would be to “do something. Be the actual change. Stop bullshitting. Stop going around and finding ways to do what you want. Actually be the change.”

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