New law increases school police powers, critics say

From Sacramento Bee:

A new law that aims to address confusion over the authority of school district police departments has come under fire from some critics who say lawmakers have quietly increased school police powers under the guise of “cleanup language.”

The law, which goes into effect in January, removes wording in the state Education Code that used to say that school police departments are not vested with general policing powers. That language caused confusion among the public because the Penal Code says just the opposite – that school officers are authorized to do general policing.

The conflicting language created friction in Sacramento last year after accusations surfaced that the Twin Rivers Unified School District Police Department overstepped its authority by actively policing areas away from school campuses.

“I think this is a bad law,” said former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness. “Twin Rivers is the best example of why this didn’t need to happen.”

McGinness said the law could create issues when multiple policing agencies share jurisdiction over the same area.

Jesus Montana, a sergeant with the San Diego Unified School District Police Department, disagreed, saying the new law does not expand police powers, but rather clarifies language that was previously confusing.

Montana represents specialized police departments, such as school districts, for the San Diego chapter of the Police Officers Research Association of California. Earlier this year, Montana was a member of the Twin Rivers Law Enforcement Professional Panel that reviewed complaints about excessive car tows and other allegations of wrongdoing within the Twin Rivers Police Department.

Montana said the bill was in the works before Twin Rivers’ police force began making headlines. He lobbied Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, to carry the bill – AB 2368 – and it sailed through the Legislature without a single “no” vote.

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