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Cops called to California K-8 schools 10,000 times in a year. Could state law be to blame? | Handcuffs in Hallways

VIDEO: We found cops were called to elementary and middle schools 10,000 times in a year. Could California law be to blame?
Lawmakers want to reduce unnecessary police calls to campus. One California lawmaker could kill the bill without a vote. 04:47

A bill introduced in the wake of the CBS News & Stations' "Handcuffs in Hallways" investigation aims to reduce "unnecessary" calls for police at California schools, but one lawmaker could kill it without a vote.

As part of a nationwide investigation into arrests of young children on campus, a CBS News analysis found police were called to California schools more than 10,000 times in a year. The data reveals they were rarely called for reasons that resulted in an arrest in California.

Some believe that's because, in addition to obvious crimes, California law may require school staff to call the police for behavioral issues that could be better handled by trained school staff and counselors.

Numerous studies find that negative early interactions with police can have lasting effects on kids. Others note that needlessly calling cops to campus is a public safety concern at a time when California law enforcement is understaffed.

Instead of requiring school staff to call the police for a variety of reasons, San Jose Assemblyman Ash Kalra introduced legislation that would authorize schools to call for any reason but it removes the threat of a fine if they don't. Schools are still required to report any violations related to firearms or weapons under federal law.

The bill also exempts students from a willful disturbance misdemeanor charge for disrupting school activities in their own school district. 

There is no public opposition to the current version of the bill, though some say they worry it could lead to the underreporting of crimes on campus and put undue pressure on teachers to decide when to call the police.

The Assembly Education Chair, Southern California Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, has yet to schedule the bill for a hearing and may single-handedly kill the bill for the second year in a row without giving his fellow lawmakers the chance to vote.

Body cameras captured 11-year-old handcuffed, detained

We first introduced you to a boy we refer to as "C.B." during our statewide Handcuffs in Hallways investigation in 2022. 

Officer body camera video captured one of the four times C.B. was handcuffed at his Southern California school, according to court records.

Black Child with Disabilities Handcuffed, Forcibly Detained by Moreno Valley School Police by DREDF on Vimeo

This time, C.B. was handcuffed for refusing to get up and walk to the principal's office so he could be questioned about accusations that he threw rocks at school resource officers the previous day.

"They slammed his head to the floor," said "W.B.," C.B.'s father. "(An) officer at least three times his size pressed his neck down with the officer's knee on his neck and back. One officer was twisting his arms."

Deputies reported that they handcuffed and detained his son after C.B. kicked one and then attempted to kick another.

"(T)hey shouldn't have handcuffed him. He's only 70 pounds," said W.B. "Any trained police officer, only one of them should've been able to handle a 70-pound kid."

C.B.'s father later sued his Riverside County school district

"He is being punished. For the very diagnosis that he has of oppositional defiant disorder," said Attorney Dan Stromer.

Stromer is a civil rights attorney, who represented CB along with the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund. He explained that the 11-year-old boy had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which he says requires a specialized response to non-compliant behavior.

However, as the body camera video reveals, less than 90 seconds after officers arrived, they pulled C.B. from his desk, pinned the child down and handcuffed the boy, who continued to struggle. 

"The school knows that he suffers from a diagnosable condition, which is exacerbated by their approach," said Stromer.

We asked the district if they have a specialized policy or trained staff to respond to students with disabilities like C.B.'s.

Representatives from the school district said they were unable to comment on litigation or medical issues, but that, "overall, we work with the sheriff's department to use de-escalation tactics with all students, regardless of known or unknown conditions."

While C.B.'s case may be extreme, he is certainly not alone. 

Is California state law to blame?

While C.B.'s case may be extreme, he is certainly not alone. A CBS News analysis of U.S. Department of Education Data revealed that, in California, police were called to campuses more than 10,000 times in a single year. However, only about one out of every 18 kids was arrested.

"Does that tell you that police are being called for incidents that maybe don't warrant a police officer?" we asked retired Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness.

"I wouldn't necessarily draw that conclusion," he said.

McGinness gives expert testimony in cases of police misconduct. The former sheriff and school resource officer said a law enforcement presence can help de-escalate a situation. However, he also believes, in some cases, law enforcement is misused on school campuses.

"There is a time to call in law enforcement. But school rules should be enforced by school authorities," McGinness said.

California state law currently requires school staff to notify law enforcement for a variety of student offenses or face a fine. Some say this can lead to unnecessary calls to the police for issues that may be better handled by counselors and trained staff.

A review of on-campus calls for cops revealed a combination of crimes and behavioral issues, including things like tardy mediation, inappropriate behavior and disrupting school activities, which is a misdemeanor.

Legislators seek updates to education code

Assemblyman Ash Kalra points to various evidence-based research that shows negative early interactions with police can be detrimental and lead to increased bad behavior.

"Why would we want to criminalize being a child?" Kalra asked.

And at a time when law enforcement is understaffed, he says this is also a matter of public safety.

"We're using valuable resources, having cops come to campuses thousands of times a year for very minor incidents," Kalra said.

So, he wants to update the education code to decrease unnecessary calls to the police. Instead of requiring school staff to call the police for a variety of reasons, he wants to authorize them to call and remove the fine if they don't.

Kalra's bill would also prevent students from being charged with a misdemeanor for disrupting school-related activities in their own district.

Schools would still have to report any violations related to firearms or weapons under federal law.

"There are absolutely situations where you need to call the police to campus. What we're saying is you shouldn't have to do it every time there's a little incident on campus" Kalra said.

Previous legislation was quietly killed (without a vote)

Kalra introduced a similar bill last year, but it died in Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi's Assembly Education Committee without a vote.

Many people don't realize that one person, a committee chair, has the power to quietly kill any bill in their committee before anyone ever gets a chance to vote. In this case, Muratsuchi simply chose not to schedule Kalra's bill for a hearing, meaning he single-handedly killed the bill last year, and he could do it again. 

We're still waiting for an interview with Muratsuchi, but in a statement, he said:

"I had a number of concerns with last year's (bill) and offered amendments. We are currently reviewing the new version of the bill (and continue) to have concerns around the potential impact on school safety."

His staff declined to elaborate on what those concerns are but sent us this opposition letter to last year's bill from the Riverside Sheriffs' Association. Incidentally, that is the agency involved in C.B.'s Case. 

Kalra's already addressed many of their concerns in the amended bill. For instance, the previous bill language required school staff to exhaust other methods of correction before calling the police. This new bill now "strongly encourages" other methods but would not prevent immediate calls to the police.

The California Teachers Association has not taken a stance and there is no formal opposition to the current version, but some say they worry it could lead to crimes on campus going underreported and put undue pressure on teachers to decide when to call police.

Parents say they want to see statewide changes made

Like most children who interact with cops on campus, deputies never actually arrested C.B. and he wasn't charged. A federal court later ruled the incident violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the district was ordered to change district policies.

But many, like C.B.'s father and Kalra, want to see changes statewide.

There are two and a half weeks left for Muratsuchi to schedule the bill for a hearing and let fellow his lawmakers vote on this bill. Otherwise, it dies again without a vote.

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