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Are School Police Real Police?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Two incidents of school security officers beating high school students in Oakland has us wondering what limits, if any, exist for campus police officers. Are school police officers just like real police officers? Where does their jurisdiction stop and start?

The answer could depend on the type of campus and the relevant state laws. An Oakland Unified School District officer is already facing felony charges and the video below of one of episodes could mean more criminal or civil liability.

Out of Control in Oakland

Video footage surfaced this March of two officers at Fremont High School initiating and escalating contact with a student before dragging him off camera and allegedly punching him. The student was a 15-year-old freshman when the incident occurred in January 2014.

This was the second videotaped case of brutality after an officer at Oakland High School was caught beating a handcuffed student in a wheelchair in May of last year. The officer in that case, Marchell Mitchell, has been charged with felony corporal injury to a child.

Oakland's school district has its own police force, which is uncommon even for urban districts. Oakland schools spokesman Troy Flint said officers "had extra training in the summer and now under our new school police chief, we are going to have more rigorous training" in response to the incidents.

OUSD Police Department Chief Jeff Godown responded to the video: "You don't put your hands on a kid unless you've got justification to do it. And based on what I see in this video, unless something comes up afterward, I don't see justification for it."

Source of Authority

Most campus police forces are created by school boards, which can control what school police can and can't do. For instance, OUSD board members instituted a new policy last summer, which banned interrogations during school hours and mandated parental presence during questioning, among other reforms. This is compared to University of Chicago police, who are appointed as special police and patrol a jurisdiction much larger than the campus.

So a school police officers powers will generally depend on the jurisdiction and the school district's policing policy, the limits of which students would be well-advised to abstain from testing.

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