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'They Are There To Protect Us, But That's Not What They're Doing': Protesters Call For Police To Be Removed From Pittsburgh Public Schools

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - "No police in schools" -- that's the message of a protest Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

As this idea is being proposed across the county, more than a dozen organizations will take this to the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education.

WATCH: KDKA's Jennifer Borrasso Reports

"They are there to protect us, but that's not what they're doing. Then there's no purpose in having them in schools," Jasmine Dupree with The Women and Girls Foundation's GirlGov Program said over Zoom.

Dupree is a 2020 graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools and will be part of Monday's protest. She said police have escalated minor situations and been misused when other professionals were needed to help a student in crisis.

pittsburgh public schools police
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"Police should not be handling the matters I've seen over four years or heard about from my peers," Dupree said. "It's completely ridiculous to hear what kids have had to go through with police or security officers."

A petition in connection with the protest is calling for several changes including removing all 22 Pittsburgh Public School police officers from inside and outside the schools as well as adopting policies that keep Pittsburgh Police out, except when required by law or if there is imminent risk of serious physical harm.

"Kids from my neighborhood and where I live don't want to see the same people hurting our friends and family around us now at school," Dupree said.

It's also calling for investments in counselors and social workers and the creation of a community-led police review board to evaluate situations when police are called to schools.

WATCH: KDKA's Chris Hoffman Reports

Organizers said Pittsburgh Public Schools district has one of the highest student arrests rates in the state.

"There's very obvious reasons why kids don't want be in an environment like that. Kids cannot handle that stress," Dupree told KDKA's Chris Hoffman.

pittsburgh public schols police
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

The petition has more than 1,600 signatures. The protest is scheduled for 4 Monday afternoon outside the board of education building in Oakland.

KDKA's Jennifer Borraso reports a decent sized crowd turned out Monday afternoon. Protesters held a sign that read "fund schools, not prisons."

"I fear criminalization and young people being treated more like criminals as opposed to children," said Jitu Brown with Journey for Justice Alliance. "There are other things that children need, right? When children come from poverty they don't need to be policed, they need to be supported."

One Pennsylvania & the Education Rights Network led a rally calling on Pittsburgh Public Schools to remove police from...

Posted by Jennifer Borrasso -TV News on Monday, June 22, 2020

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendant Dr. Anthony Hamlet released a statement, saying:

"We know that arrests and suspensions do nothing for students' social well-being and learning, and we are committed to reducing exclusionary discipline practices among our students. We also know our school police officers play a vital role in ensuring our students and staff feel safe and work to protect our school communities from potential outside dangers. We have made significant strides in reducing suspensions, but there is much work to do. I look forward to working on this together with the community and staff."

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, released a statement, saying:

We're doing this backward, aren't we? Introducing resolutions to eliminate our school security force before having an honest and rational conversation about that force? Let's start that conversation here.

The killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis City Police Officers has launched a global movement to end systemic racism, and has become a clarion call for change in how our communities are policed. Individual police officers and the system that entrusts them with extraordinary powers need to be held accountable. The procedures and laws that allow police to circumvent accountability must be studied and appropriate changes need to be made.

Twenty School Police Officers—SPO's—are currently employed by Pittsburgh Public Schools—PPS—and represented by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers—PFT.

Most school districts in the United States do not employ police officers. Instead, they have agreements with their municipal police to have officers patrol district buildings and property. These officers are known as "School Resource Officers." The use of SROs by U.S. school districts increased dramatically since the 1999 Columbine school shooting.

That is not the model in Pittsburgh. Our police officers are not SROs. Employment of PPS officers began before Columbine. They are represented by the PFT, not the Fraternal Order of Police. Our district has control over hiring, evaluation, and discipline of our officers. Our district has control over whether SPOs write citations. PPS police officers must get approval from their supervisor before writing a citation.

When city police are in our schools, they do not ask permission to make an arrest.

In fact—the nationwide discussion being had about police reform… is already greatly reflected in the school police force we already have.

The PPS Safety Department is the most diverse police department in the region, perhaps in the state. More than half of our police officers are women Forty percent are African American.

Our police know our students, have specialized training in de-escalation techniques and restorative practices, and are a vital part of our school communities.

They do not carry firearms. They enhance safety in our schools by being problem-solvers, risk-managers and an overwhelming force for good.

The call to remove school police from our schools is wrong-headed and ignores the progressive and diverse safety department PPS has—one that should be the model for other districts that want a uniquely engaged school security apparatus. We welcome the addition of new in-school counseling, de-escalation and mental health resources—but addition by subtraction of our school police is a fool's errand—a hysterical reaction rather than proactive discussion. Our schools, our teachers and our kids will suffer for it. For their sake, let the conversation BEGIN here, not end here.

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