California Attorney General Kamala Harris has announced five investigations across the state into the treatment of students and children by school police, juvenile hall staff, foster care agencies, child welfare departments and private special education school staff.
The investigations were listed this week on a new Bureau of Children’s Justice investigations website that also asked for “input and information from members of the public – both positive and negative” about the matters. The Bureau of Children’s Justice was created as a division of the attorney general’s office last year to remedy “accountability and enforcement gaps,” Harris said in a statement.
Under investigation, although not charged with wrongdoing, are the Stockton Unified School District Police Department; the San Diego County Probation Department and its juvenile halls and camps; the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services and its child abuse reporting practices; the San Bernardino County Department of Children and Family Services and its foster home placements; and private special education schools across the state and their discipline practices.
Many of the investigations have been underway for months and were made public in part to solicit new information. “I want to encourage members of the public to report information about these investigations to my office,” Harris said. Comments and complaints may be submitted online.
The investigation of the Stockton Unified School District Police Department began in December, when the Bureau for Children’s Justice contacted the department and expressed concern that school police officers were arresting students at high rates, including students under the age of 10, according to documents related to the investigation. Since then, Chief of Police Bryon Gustafson has spent months making the case that the data are incorrect and the investigation’s focus misguided.
“Over the past three years, zero children under age 10 have been arrested and booked into juvenile hall by SUSD Police,” said Gustafson, who became chief of the department in 2014. Data from California Department of Justice were not broken down by year, but the justice department said Stockton school police had arrested 1,590 students under age 10 over 22 years, an average of 72 young students a year.
The California data characterize as “arrests” the number of times school police talk with students about their behavior and send them on their way. These interactions are known as “counsel and release contacts — what most people call ‘warnings,'” Gustafson said. In addition, he noted, only four school district police departments — Stockton, Fontana, Twin Rivers and San Bernardino — report to the California Department of Justice the number of arrests they make. “Approximately 90 percent of school police data are missing and ignored by the DOJ ‘arrest’ database,” he said.
In other investigations, the Bureau of Children’s Justice is looking into the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms in private special education schools that operate under contract with school districts. The investigation includes the discipline practices at Tobinworld, a nonprofit organization that operates six private special education schools in California.
The San Bernardino child welfare investigation was launched last year, according to the San Bernardino Sun, following allegations that county child welfare officials failed to take action after staff members were said to have repeatedly placed children in dangerous homes where they were severely abused or died.
In the Humboldt County investigation, the Bureau of Children’s Justice earlier this year subpoenaed every report of child abuse or neglect from 2011 through 2015, according to the North Coast Journal.
The origin of the investigation into the San Diego County Probation Department was not immediately apparent. In February, Disability Rights California, a watchdog organization, filed a report that cited the excessive use of force at two juvenile halls.
In a Frequently Asked Questions document, the Bureau of Children’s Justice stated that it cannot provide legal advice or serve as an attorney for an individual.
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