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School police officers expand knowledge of restorative practices

School police officers expand knowledge of restorative practices
Posted on 04/04/2017

San Diego Unified School District

Article courtesy of the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network

From March 27 to 29, 10 San Diego Unified School District police officers gathered to learn about restorative justice techniques and how to refer cases to the City Heights Restorative Community Conferencing Pilot Program.

Restorative justice is focused on bringing youth responsible for committing a crime and those harmed by their actions together to agree on how to repair it. It is a tool for school police balancing keeping order at a school with helping guide young people's development.

"Suspension rates are affected, if an administrator takes more of a restorative approach to addressing behavior," said San Diego Unified Police Sgt. Ivan Picazo on the first day of training. "A punitive action will technically fix the issue for the day, but it doesn't address the behavior long-term."

Suspended students also fall behind, he said, and sometimes fall into a school-to-prison pipeline where discipline and exposure to the juvenile criminal-justice system actually encourages criminal behavior.

"I believe that restorative justice is a win-win," he said.

The Mid-City CAN Peace Promotion Momentum Team conceptualized the restorative conferencing program in 2013.

The San Diego Unified Police Department signed the Memorandum of Understanding for the pilot in October, joining the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, Department of Probation and Public Defender's Office. They agreed to support restorative-justice alternatives to the traditional juvenile court process.

The goal is for restorative justice training like this to eventually reach all officers of San Diego Unified and potentially beyond to the San Diego Police Department through a train-the trainer model. The training is being developed by SD Unified School Police, Mid-City CAN and Oakland-based technical assistance provider, Impact Justice.

On the first day of the training, Hoover High School Officer Jeni Gruner said it was already giving her a better perspective on restorative practices, which she compares to a more advanced form of the mediation she has used throughout her career.

Much of the work she does at Hoover is focused on de-escalation and prevention, she said.

"There are many reasons why [students] could be having a conflict - maybe there is a communication problem, maybe a cultural problem, maybe there is stuff going on at home, maybe there is stuff going on at school," she said. "And so my goal would be to get them to have a conversation and figure out what the cause of that conflict is and to have a resolution before it turns into a fight."

She said that Hoover is already implementing a model where students take the lead in restorative justice.

"There is more power in a group of peers helping them fix this conflict," she said.

Students often are more open and don't have the same preconceptions about other students that they might have with adults who they may feel are out of touch or from outside the community, she said.

"My hope and goal is to have every teacher use" restorative practices, she said.

It is a tool that can improve issues from classroom management to conflict resolution, she said.

Although Gruner only has been at Hoover since November, so far the "climate has been very positive," she said. "I feel like the kids are benefiting from this."

Sgt. Picazo, who is stationed at Lincoln High School, said schools in City Heights are a microcosm of the community.

"Sometimes the problems that exist in this community spill over to the school sites," he said.