Two new panels will review safety and provide oversight of the Detroit school district’s police force

During a rally Monday outside the Detroit school district headquarters, advocates called for dismantling the district’s police department. (482Forward)

The head of the Detroit school board announced Tuesday that the district will create a new panel to  make recommendations on improving safety in schools, as well as an oversight committee to monitor the district police department.

Board President Iris Taylor made the announcement during a school board meeting Tuesday night. 

The announcement came a day after dozens of protesters rallied outside district headquarters to call for dismantling of the district’s police department.

Led by 482Forward, an education advocacy group, the protesters called for the district to shift funding from the school police force to guidance counselors, restorative justice programs, and a committee that would create a districtwide safety plan.

Taylor didn’t mention the defunding campaign when making the announcement.

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The district has its own police department, setting it apart from school districts that contract with local police departments for security services. According to a statement released Tuesday morning, the district spent $7.5 million on its police department in the 2019-20 school year, and currently employs 55 police officers across its roughly 100 schools. 

Taylor said the committees will work on separate timelines: 

  • A public safety task force will study the state of safety in the district and issue recommendations in August. Taylor appointed Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, board vice president, and board member Misha Stallworth to lead the panel.
  • The second panel will consist of seven members, including members of law enforcement, the general public, and a member of the district’s public safety task force. Board members Stallworth, Peterson-Mayberry and Corletta Vaughn were appointed to review applications for the remaining openings. Commission members will most likely serve multiyear terms.

Protesters on Monday also called for the creation of a panel, though in their directive the committee of community members would develop a safe plan for dismantling the police department. They also called for the district to release data on spending and misconduct of district police, arguing that police officers in schools don’t support student learning.

Nationwide protests were sparked after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a black man, and have often focused on demands to defund police departments. Those arguments have also hit schools. The Minneapolis school district earlier this month ended its contract with the local police department, the Denver school board voted to phase police out of its schools, and in Chicago, a group of aldermen have joined an effort to get police out of schools.

District spokeswoman Chrystal Wilson, in the statement this morning, alluded to the creation of an oversight commission as one of many steps that have been implemented by the district. Wilson said Chief Ralph Godbee, who leads the police force, has moved the department “in a more progressive direction,” since he was hired by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti in 2018.

“Training has focused on equity, progressive discipline, and de-escalating conflict,” Wilson said. “The district has also moved away from contracting security guards and instead has hired full-time staff to improve wages, benefits and provide consistent relationships with students and schools.”

Wilson said the district and school board have been discussing ways to reduce the security budget “even before this issue became a part of the current national movement to defund police departments.”

Many of the meeting’s public commenters still called for the removal of police in the Detroit district.

Lindsey Matson, an organizer with Congress of Communities in Southwest Detroit, said that the presence of officers makes students feel that “they are not trusted, and they are not wanted. I think it really affects the mental health of our students in Detroit.”

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