Commentary

Who ya gonna call? Gate Busters!

March 15, 2022 6:02 am

(Clark County School District Police Department Facebook featured photo)

The ghost of Emily Litella inhabited the CCSD boardroom last Thursday during a meeting whose main agenda was supposed to be about how to address escalating school violence.

Instead, most commenters pointed to an item Supt. Jesus Jara and his team seemingly snuck into the consent agenda that would, on the surface, fund police officers to come into peoples neighborhoods and bust down doors to their homes.

In the wake of the mistaken no-knock warrant that resulted in Metro police officers killing 19-year-old Isaiah Williams back in January, this news was understandably upsetting.

But it wasn’t necessarily what commenters thought it was.

Or was it?

The program, which will be funded with a $405,000 grant from U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, will pair CCSD and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers with social workers, who will travel after school hours in unmarked vehicles to check on students who are delinquent or are having issues in school. 

That doesn’t sound scary at a— Oh… wait… there’s a correction… the program, which is already being funded after the CCSD Board of Trustees approved it as a consent agenda item on August 8, 2019 is looking to increase funding to expand by adding about $250,000 to the budget.

What are they expanding? Well, they’re adding some people (hopefully more social workers), walkie talkies so they can better coordinate with Metro police, a couple of unmarked cars – with sirens of course – and this wonderfully named program:

People. We need to talk about branding. And communication. And knowing your audience.

The gate buster, as Trustee Katie Williams taught the boardroom, is a piece of technology that will hack gate codes, so police can come into gated neighborhoods. Without having to do anything like, I don’t know, ask the family if it’s a good time to drop by.

And what a wonderful group to be having drop in on you unexpectedly: a CCSD police officer, a Metro officer and a social worker. All wearing clothes that totally fit in with your neighborhood and driving an unmarked car that nobody can identify as a police vehicle.

There are so many questions that this agenda item didn’t answer. Like what happens if the family you’re visiting on behalf of a troubled student happens to have an illegal substance sitting on their table? What if they’re in the shower? What if the babysitter is there? What if the people in the house don’t speak English? What if the people in the house don’t speak English and think a couple of cops and a social worker showing up at their door means they will be turned over to ICE?

We have no answers because there was no detail to the original proposal in 2019. There is no public record of the trustees being briefed on the original proposal in a work session or regular meeting. It was just slid into the consent agenda without many of us noticing.

The program was also slipped into the consent agenda last week. With this 3-page description, and absolutely no data on how the program has progressed in the last three years. This delinquency program is being funded by a federal grant. Federal grants have reporting requirements. The CCSD Board of Trustees cannot be bothered with looking at the report before they decide to re-fund it?

Trustee Danielle Ford – that troublemaker – tried to pull this item from the consent agenda twice on Thursday – once when the meeting first started and then after public comment. She was rebuffed.

I want to also note that the supporting documentation says it’s a new grant. It’s not a new grant. But labeling it as such took away the opportunity for people to research the grant before the meeting. You know… ask questions… be informed citizens… or transparent public servants. Some trustees didn’t even know it was a grant renewal.

My biggest problem with this agenda item isn’t that social workers are teaming with police to deliver services. This is a cornerstone in what some in the police reform movement have been calling for. SafeNest has been partnering with Metro for a couple of years to send trained domestic violence counselors on 911 calls with police officers. The trend has been growing around the country, albeit with some worries.

This has come, of course, after years of stories – and sometimes live streamed videos – of Black people being killed by police, or citizens who feel they have police powers. Social workers may or may not be the best solution in diverting youth or deescalating situations. But they’re better than nervous cops with guns. Which, of course, brings up a couple of unanswered questions from last week’s agenda item: Why have Metro involved? And why have the cop-to-social worker ratio be 2 to 1?

But my biggest issue is how utterly tone deaf CCSD was in presenting this item. There was a lot that happened between now and 2019, when this grant was first approved. 2020 happened.

In 2019 we didn’t see with such glaring starkness the health disparities in Black and Brown communities, which were hit hardest by the pandemic. In 2019, we had not yet watched in horror as a white guy wearing a police uniform dug his knee into the neck of a Black man as he sat mocking the dozens of people who were yelling at him to stop. In 2019 there were some of us who could still keep up the lie that such everyday depravity didn’t exist. By 2022, we can’t keep lying anymore. 

In 2019 we didn’t have the intensity of violence that is playing out daily in CCSD schools in 2022. And this is where the tone deafness of Jara and the board gets jacked up a few decibels. After much pleading and negotiation between Trustees Guzman, Ford and Cavazos to even put school violence on the agenda, Jara and his team think, “Oh, you know what we’ll do? We’ll put a short, no-context outline of a grant program that is going to send police unannounced to people’s homes. That will calm nerves.”

We live in a city that practically invented the idea of branding and targeted communication. Yet we have school district leadership that thinks details and clear communication are for chumps. This might be a decent program. Why would the district miss the opportunity to trumpet something that is working to its fractious board of trustees? Why hide it in a consent agenda rather than put it out for people to be part of the discussion?

There were a few bright spots – a few small bits of honesty – in last week’s meeting. Two came from Asst. Superintendent John Anzalone, who is leaving to run a smaller district in the northwest at the end of this year, and Chief Student Achievement Officer Mike Barton, who had a few moments of total honesty with the trustees.

Another bright spot was Brigid Duffy, director of the Juvenile Justice Division for the office of the District Attorney, who noted that the intensity of the violence has escalated at CCSD, not numbers. Duffy also had this to say as she signed off:

 

 

So, we have another unanswered question. Who asked her to resign?

We’re still waiting…

…to find out the final fallout from Jara’s botched firing back in November/December. If you remember, Jara sent the board a demand letter for $2.6 million. Rescinding his firing did not nullify that demand letter. Before he agreed to come back, Jara asked for a number of assurances – which he and trustees have mentioned in public meetings. We don’t know what those assurances are. I have been told that the negotiations over how much, if any, money to give him for his pain and suffering for having to deal with three smart women are still ongoing. And remember, his contract is up next year. So the trustees have to jump on that.

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Carrie Kaufman
Carrie Kaufman

Broadcast, digital and print journalist Carrie Kaufman writes the You're Overthinking It newsletter on Substack. She has covered the Clark County School District for public radio and The Nevada Voice since 2015. Follow Carrie on Twitter: @CarrieKaufman

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