A study of Oakland policing over the last five to seven years shows a disproportionately high rate of arrests for black male youths, but an even more inexplicable lack of accompanying criminal charges.
During a five-year period, 78% of the 13,684 arrested juveniles referred to the Alameda County Probation Department were black youths. Of the total number of youths arrested, 56.6% were not pursued. But 78% of all the non-sustained arrests were African-American.
The study’s conclusion was that police were arresting black juveniles for non-serious, non-criminal conduct, which should have been handled through professional intervention that didn’t involve the police. The report asked, “Why are police being called for so many non-serious incidents, situations that may be better handled by counselors, administrators, school staff or parent volunteers?”
It did not answer the question, but noted that the Oakland Unified School District employs around 20 school counselors—one for every 1,854 students. City and school district budgets provide funding for approximately six times more police officers and school security guards than school counselors.
The question posed by the report was worth asking, though, because, as it points out, children who have an encounter with police at an early age are far more likely to eventually end up in the criminal justice system.
The report comes at a time when there is a growing call for increasing the presence of police in schools in response to mass shootings like the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. Civil rights advocates fear that such a move in low-income areas would make it harder to break school-to-prison patterns that threaten to perpetuate a permanent underclass.
The study did not break out what percentage of arrests were made near schools. It did note, however, that over a two-year period, while 30.5% of the school district students are African-American, they made up 73% of the Oakland School Police arrests. The school police did not report the arrest of a single white student.