The Burbank Board of Education heard a report on the duties and outreach efforts of Burbank School Resource Officers at the regular Board meeting held on Thursday, February 18.
Presented by Sergeant Stephen Turner of the Burbank Police Department, the report outlined the responsibilities, actions and flexible approach Burbank School Resource Officers (SRO) use to engage with and support students in the Burbank community.
Turner “is a great partner” with Burbank Unified, Superintendent Matt Hill said as he introduced Turner to the Board at the start of the SRO report.
Turner, himself a former SRO and Detective and now a Supervisor with Burbank’s Juvenile Detail, acknowledged, “I have an extreme vested interest” in the community and local school district. Turner has coached in BUSD and the City and “grew up with a lot of these kids.”
He also has had two children graduate from BUSD and another currently attending school in the District.
“I’m very proud of the Burbank Unified School District,” Turner commented. “I want it to succeed. I want it to be the safest and the best.”
In the report, Turner explained the structure of the Burbank Police Juvenile Detail, which includes two Detectives, an L.A. County Juvenile Probation Officer and the two SROs – Officer Dustin Rodriquez and Officer Laura Vargas.
The duties of the SROs include: respond to high-risk or criminal activities in and around schools, maintain strong working relationships with staff at all BUSD schools, investigate suspected child abuse reports, perform student wellness checks and provide resources for delinquency prevention. SROs aim to be aware of “classroom and cyberbullying tendencies and victimization” as well as “suicidal or homicidal ideations in juvenile expressions and behaviors” so they can refer mental health professionals.
“Not just anybody can be an SRO,” Turner said, outlining the department’s requirements for SRO candidacy, which includes demonstrated commitment such as years-long time on the ground and a strong interest in and experience with the local community.
The two Burbank Student Resource Officers not only support the 22 Burbank Unified public schools and their approximately 15,000 students, but also six private schools in the City and after school programs like Boys and Girls Club and Afterschool Daze.
“We are not armed sentries at every campus,” he emphasized. “We wear many hats as an SRO.”
Typical daily activity varies, with “something new every day.” While Vargas is assigned to John Burroughs High School and Rodriguez to Burbank High School, the SROs are not usually at one campus all day. JBHS and BHS are the primary campuses, based on school population size and activity. The SROs will also visit other campuses to support anti-abuse, -vaping and -crime efforts and assist BPD with juvenile-related Traffic, Patrol or Detective needs. They provide support at school events and games as well.
“We do not have a hand in school discipline,” Turner also said. He noted that traffic complaints involving juveniles are a significant part of the SROs’ work.
The SRO program also is involved with a number of community and parental outreach events and support.
Turner presented some data from recent years. For academic year 2018-19, SROs made 10 arrests, wrote nine citations and counseled/advised 473 students in Burbank Unified. For 2019-20, they made two arrests, wrote eight citations and counseled/advised 223 students. For current academic year to date, with schools closed to in person education, SROs have not made any student arrests, written zero citations and have counseled 34.
Turner explained that “counseled/advised” refers to verbal interactions with students in a variety of contexts, including answering students’ questions about various laws and careers in law enforcement.
The basic philosophy of juvenile law in the United States, Turner said, “is to protect juveniles from abuse or neglect, to prevent delinquency and rehabilitate them if possible.”
Over the years, the SRO program has also focused on community outreach, holding panels on substance abuse, mental health and school safety, and participating in various Burbank Police Foundation and Police Department community events including the Family Fun Day, National Night Out and Shop With A Cop.
SROs have also “trained hundreds of BUSD teachers and staff” in active threat/active shooter drills, and train on school campuses with other first responders and agencies to prepare for such situations. They are also instrumental in Safe Schools plans and safety committees for the District.
Turner also talked about SRO work with Burbank Unified to develop and maintain a “Burbank Care Assessment Team to better assist students expressing concerning behavior attributes towards school, staff and/or fellow students.”
He also noted SROs meet annually with the Police Chief, Juvenile Detail, Mental Health Evaluation Team (MHET), Fire Department and BUSD administration “to review and obtain feedback on relevant juvenile and school resource programs,” which include a number of County and City resources for youth.
Turner mentioned the success of the collaborative Anti-Vaping Program developed by BUSD with the help of the SROs, “We saw early on… the rocket rise in vaping issues and problems at school.”
“The school district was phenomenal in spearheading this and creating a program and reaching out to us and getting us involved to create an educational program to educate our youth and have these anti-vaping seminars,” Turner explained.”If a child was caught on campus by staff or whoever, they attend one of these anti-vaping seminars.”
“This model introduced by the school and our SROs” was the foundation for “a new bill that has been sent up to the State to assist with the fallout of this new epidemic of vaping and cigarette smoking” created by Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s office and the Burbank City Attorney, he added.
A few speakers during Public Comments time at the beginning of the Board of Education meeting spoke either in support of the SRO program or asked that the program not be expanded, following a recent Burbank Police Commission report recommending the retention and/or expansion of the program.
“I listened to the Police Commission and joint City Council meeting last week, so I heard the full breadth of comment and discussion as well,” Hill said in response to the speakers. “I wanted to start off that conversation acknowledging the past and the Board has done this through our Anti-Racist Policy and Statement.”
“We do have a history in this school district, as well as in our city and our entire country about racism and about Burbank being a sundown town,” Hill continued. “We know previously we’ve had policies and practices that have harmed our community members and our students. We have worked very hard in partnership with BPD and our school district to continuously improve our SRO program.”
“I want to make sure we are clear… I feel a lot of times we focus on what we’re doing now and we want to do in the future and we don’t talk about the harms of the past,” Hill said. “So we have to continue to acknowledge that and we do need to heal from that.”
“We have to create additional forums and opportunities for our students and our community to express their thoughts and feedback,” he went on to say.”I know a couple of the speakers talked about there are still incidents and we have students traumatized by that. I’ve heard of some of those, from the past. But I want to continue to do that.”
“The school board and I always want to hear of about any incident. I know Sergeant Turner and Chief LaChasse do as well, and that’s why I appreciate this partnership,” Hill said. “We’ve had many conversations. I do know we’re in the beginning of that. It is valuable to have our two SROs… there’s always opportunities to improve and also focus on education and awareness.”
Board of Education members posed a few questions for Turner after his report and indicated that the conversation about the role of SROs in Burbank Unified would continue. Both Turner and the Board of Education showed support for holding more parental forums and community panels in the future, in order to make parents and students more aware of resources and support. Turner expressed a willingness to discuss possible changes and policy moving forward.
“As the Police Commission was reviewing BPD practices and the SRO program, the Board received some concerns from parents and community members,” Hill clarified, in a comment made after the meeting. “Sergeant Turner’s report was the first step to share information and increase transparency about the program.”
“The Board would like to invite Sergeant Turner and the SROs to our Safety Committee so that parents can attend and/or ask questions. BUSD will send out a invite to parents in advance of the meeting,” he added. “The Board has not indicated that they would like to drop the program, they would like to increase communications, transparency and talk about ways to improve policies and practices.”
The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Clerk Steve Ferguson and members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Dr. Emily Weisberg. More information on the Board can be found online on their webpage.