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VICTORY! Salt Lake City Police and School District Settle Suit Over “Gang Operation” By Agreeing To Changes

This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2016 Spring Newsletter >>

WinstonWinThe Salt Lake City Police Department and the Salt Lake City School District have agreed to make broad and meaningful changes in how they treat students of color and engage in school disciplinary issues under the settlement with the ACLU of Utah and the ACLU Racial Justice Project announced on February 26, 2016. 

The agreements stem from a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of students at West High School who were caught up in a late 2010 “gang operation” carried out by various local police departments on school grounds during the school day.  During the “gang operation,” all of the students detained and documented were of Latino, African-American, or Pacific Island descent, even though students of color comprised just half the student body. They were rounded up, questioned, searched, and photographed holding signs describing alleged gang affiliation.  Their information was then documented and entered into a police database, potentially subjecting them to future unwarranted police scrutiny. 

As part of settlement, the city and school district have pledged that: 

  • Salt Lake City police will not conduct any operations like the 2010 gang enforcement operation.
  • Officers will not photograph students holding whiteboards identifying alleged gang affiliation.
  • Police will not use race, color, ethnicity, or national origin in exercising discretion to conduct a stop or search of a student.
  • Police will expunge records labeling plaintiffs as identified or suspected gang members or associates created during the 2010 “gang operation.”
  • School administrators will only request the involvement of police officers when there is a serious and immediate threat to physical safety or to address criminal conduct of a non-student.
  • Police will no longer arrest students for behavior like profanity or arguing; such instances will instead be handled administratively by school officials.
  • School resource officers will receive annual in-person training that covers implicit bias, how to engage with youth, and more.
  • School district employees will receive training on the appropriate role of police, adolescent development, cultural competency, conflict resolution and de-escalation.
  • The school district will amend its policies regarding prohibited gang-related activity to provide clear notice to students and parents, and it will publicly post data on police arrests in school twice a year on its website.
  • The school district and the police will establish an oversight committee that will review school-based arrests and other police interventions at least twice a year, meet with community stakeholders, and consider any concerns raised by community members.

It is exciting and encouraging to see Salt Lake City police and the school district commit to policies that advance the common goal of eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, where students get funneled out of the school system and into the criminal justice system. 

Find more information about this case Winston v. Salt Lake City Police Department