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LAUSD's Finest: Los Angeles School Police 

How an oblivious school board lets a tiny, scandal-ridden force endanger L.A. kids

Wednesday, Sep 2 2009
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Alan Kerstein was a 32-year veteran cop at LAPD and a dedicated fan of hard-boiled TV police dramas like Adam-12 and Dragnet when Romer hired him in 2002 and publicly gushed, “He was selected from a group of 45 highly qualified chiefs, and we think we are getting the very best.”

Coming off the embarrassing scandal over downloaded pornography that shook School Police headquarters, the department’s officers wanted a force that offered the perks, like bigger guns, better hours and better pay, but also the public respect enjoyed by the 9,950-officer LAPD. “The officers wanted to stop being safety patrol,” says former school board member David Tokofsky. “The pendulum swung from guys who wanted to be older brothers on campus to guys who wanted to be serious police officers.”

Pushed by Kerstein, the school board agreed to a dramatic policy shift, giving school police the power to arrest anyone in the greater Los Angeles area — technically, within “one-half mile” of the school district’s 1,100 ubiquitous schools, centers and offices. Kerstein called his power grab “Village Policing,” and his scheme got around a longtime rule that kept the campus cops’ jurisdiction to a one-block radius of school property.

click to flip through (10) PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN TEEGARDEN MODELS: SKOTI COLLINS & CHARITO MERTZ
  • Photo illustration by Sean Teegarden models: Skoti Collins & Charito Mertz
 

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Kerstein also brought in two former high-ranking LAPD veterans, Steve La Roche and Manion. To transform his department in the image of LAPD, Ream says, “the first thing Alan Kerstein did — he’s a very superficial guy — he changed our patches [and uniforms]. He changed our call signs to be like LAPD.” He placed officers on a four-day/10-hour schedule — odd for a school district that operates five days a week but again copying LAPD. Kerstein also took “Unified” out of “L.A. Unified School Police Department” — another trace of the school district. He ordered a new fleet of cars. No longer purple and white, most were black and white. Just like LAPD.

Kerstein created a “motorcycle division” — no other large, urban U.S. school district has one, according to the secret report by Evergreen. That audit found that motorcycle cops rarely work, don’t attend roll call, don’t keep activity logs and “are not required to respond to calls for assistance.” No other school police in the U.S. except Miami-Dade had a SWAT team; Kerstein insisted on one. (In the only clear example of an effort to roll back Kerstein’s influence, Cortines last year quietly disbanded it.) Kerstein had to have a K-9 unit — unheard of at any school district except Miami-Dade.

One of Kerstein’s obsessions with LAPD-like accessories was his repeated alteration of the School Police Department’s “official seal” — some say he redrew it four times — before he settled on a Roman-themed design depicting rods of wood, or what he’d later describe as “a symbol of magisterial authority.”

Paul Quezada, president of the department’s sergeants’ union, says officers on the force still hope for real reform. He initially backed Kerstein but now tells the Weekly that the former chief “was the most detrimental thing the school district ever did to the Police Department. ... This became a self-serving vehicle with special units and pretty uniforms and better days off — less accountable structure.”

Perhaps most disturbing, under Kerstein and his understudy and successor, Manion, the Internal Affairs unit allowed 16 probes of school cops to blow past the legal deadline for punishing the officers, all of whom were found guilty of wrongdoing. In a stark example of the code of silence that grips the School Police Department and now has spread to the district, school officials refused even to acknowledge, when pressed by the Weekly, that LAUSD let lapse 16 complaints against officers, allowing the school cops to escape punishment even though all were later deemed by district police investigators to be guilty.

In addition, because a 2006 court ruling now protects officer privacy, LAUSD denied many of the Weekly’s requests, filed under the California Public Records Act, for documents detailing the 16 cases. In instances where the district did provide documents, they were so heavily blacked-out by LAUSD as to be useless. Parents are in the dark about who the officers are, which schools they police and what acts they committed. In fact, parents and the public are forced to trust the same broken system that protected Ian King.

An August 9, 2006, letter written by Manion and obtained by the Weekly describes two egregiously overdue I.A. investigations assigned to Deputy Chief Nancy Ramirez. Manion’s letter to Ramirez is troubling for its lack of outrage: “The investigation involving [name redacted] was assigned to you on May 5, 2005, and was due on June 6, 2005,” Manion writes more than a year later. “The completed investigation has not been submitted. The investigation involving [name redacted] commenced on July 6, 2004, and was due on April 4, 2005. The completed investigation has not been submitted. . “Regrettably,” Manion informs Ramirez, “these investigations are now out of statute.”

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