On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council voted to rescind approval of a grant that would provide six school resource officers for schools within the Antioch Unified School District.
The vote was 3-2 with councilmembers Mike Barbanica and Lori Ogorchock dissenting. Within the vote, the council also voted that with the funds saved on the grant, it would be reallocated to youth services.
The School Resource Officer Grant was approved over the summer by both the Antioch City Council and the Antioch Unified School District in contentious 3-2 votes by both elected bodies—who agreed to split the $3.2 million cost.
According to the agenda, the council on Tuesday has the following three options:
- The City Council can adopt a resolution rescinding its acceptance of the US Department of Justice COPS grant.
- The City can reduce the number of SRO’s
- The City Council can opt to take no action
It was announced in June that the Antioch Police were awarded the $750k grant from the US Department of Justice COPS hiring Program which would cost the city an estimated $125,667 per police officers for a total of $754,002 for six positions—which would be split with the Antioch Unified School District.
For Tuesdays meeting, the city received 210 public comments submitting with 82 comments being the same.
Barbanica explained that the school resource officers have always been around until the economic downturn in 2007-08 that this came into question. The city and school district had to cut costs and made cuts. He also highlighted the stories of school resource officers in the past, the positives and the building of relationships between law enforcement and students.
He said he spoke with every principal and the Superintendent even sharing one administrator who said staff doesn’t feel safe and many times they reach into a backpack and pull guns out.
“This grant was in partnership with the Antioch Unified School District because teachers wanted it, administrators wanted it, I did not talk to one school administrator who did not want it,” stated Barbanica. “Overwhelmingly they want this grant, they want the school resource officers.”
He continued saying people wanted this not for the enforcement part, but to have and build relationships with the kids to grow with the kids and be a mentor.
Barbanica shared how officers were selected. He said it was explained that officers had to submit a letter of interest, take an oral board which was made up of police administrators, school principals, teachers union representatives and students. He then ran through bios of the officers.
- Officer Kendall – African American male who grew up in east Oakland. His mom is a teacher, father a preacher while he and his wife started WIMP (Weapons in Minors Possession) to help educate and raise awareness of damages caused by weapons. He works with youth at his church and coaches youth basketball.
- OfficerAllen – white female in 20’s, grew up playing sports, coached youth sports teams and mentored youths, features in Share Blue Smiles for working with school age girls.
- Officer Saffel – African American male in 30’s, grew up on military base. High School he met an SRO who helped guide him in life challenges (suicide of father, wife’s addition to narcotics where she was eventually arrested and now a single father)
- Officer Aguilar – bilingual male in his 30’s. Came to Antioch from El Cerrito where he was an SRO and created a cross country running team. Grew up in East Oakland.
- Officer Tanguma – Hispanic male in 30’s, Senior Year in HS he worked on projects where he adopted and worked younger students who were to enter into HS, coached youth football.
- Officer Blumberg – white male in 40s. Worked as paramedic and EMT. He was a preceptor and worked with students and interns to teach them jobs. Coaches youth swimming, water polo and is a cadet advisor for city of Antioch.
Barbanica stated that 5 of the 6 officers are those of color while 5 of the 6 schools are principals of color all of which represents the community.
“I went into this wanting to truly learn. I didn’t want to go into this saying I support this and I am going to search for the narrative,” stated Barbanica. “I called these people up individual and told them to tell me where their support is of the program. They are telling us this is drastically needed, this is what the principals are telling me.”
Thorpe then tried to interrupt Barbanica saying he wanted to give the rest of the council time.
Barbanica continued explaining that after the murder at Deer Valley High School, other schools did not want to come to Antioch for sporting events saying the city has no police presence.
“For me, this is not an issue of money, I know we have to be fiscally responsible, the city is getting a $750k grant and over a 4-year period we are going to pay out $377k, the school district as well and we pick up the cost on the 4th year, with that, I urge the council to really consider not what I am saying, not what the officers are saying, but what a 137 years of service by these educators are saying, they want this,” stated Barbanica.
Tamisha Torres-Walker shared her condolences who has lost of a loved one to community violence and acknowledged there has been a challenge in communities sharing the loss of her brother to gun violence.
Torres-Walker shared she believed that violence spills over into the schools and that the first priority should be making their streets safer and more secure.
“its unfortunate we are afraid of our young people, I’ve heard a lot of fear mongering, young people are dangerous we are afraid, it seems like the adults around young people are afraid of them. Rather than seeing themselves as someone who can provide an opportunity to a young person who is potentially struggling because they lack resources in their community and then lack resources in schools to address trauma that they experience,” stated Torres-Walker. “I would argue if we did our job in the community, we wouldn’t be having this conversation around school safety. Someone says if this vote goes either way, the blood is on our hands. I would say the blood has been on our hands because we have not done anything about violence in the community. We haven’t done anything about racial disparity, equity and bringing resources to black indigenous people in this city.”
She highlighted she had a conversation with the police chief and that the department needs transparency and bring the department up to scale, but this was not the way to do it.
She was also critical of the committee between the City Council and Antioch School Board who should have come together to solve safety issues in the schools and the community – but it took George Floyd being choked in the street and national protests during a pandemic to get people to understand they needed to do things differently.
Walker-Torres appreciated the language in the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) but was quick to point out she knows what they say on paper sometimes is not what it looks like in practice. She also thanked Barbanica for highlighting the six officers that were potential for the program.
“I also want to acknowledge that I am happy they are on the police force. I am glad we have them as a resource. Right now, in the skills they have are not limited to becoming an SRO, they can use those skills in the community and use them right now through quality comprehensive policing,” stated Walker-Torres.
She closed by saying this was not the role of the city council.
“This vote should have never come before the city council. This is something that should have been handled at the level of a school board. I’ve seen school district contract police officers for safety but through their own budgets, but I have never seen a city decide without having the school district having discussions with students and parents. This could have all been mitigated before we even got here. I think it was insensitive to bring this vote to the council in the first place in this political climate and at a time when people with dark bodies are saying we will not stand for it anymore,” said Walker-Torres who said she hoped to work on future grants that do not put the community in opposition.
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock stated she had spoken to Superintendent Stephanie Anello and confirmed that all the principals at the high schools and middle schools wanted the SRO’s and it was important for them to have them—noting this wasn’t a light process to select the officers.
Ogorchock also highlighted the youth were involved and had a say in the officers who were hired.
“These officers are really looking forward to working with our youth of Antioch and looking froward to being in the schools,” stated Ogorchock. “They have ideas that they want to put forth.”
Ogorchock touched on those who brought up counselors, all those individuals got their jobs back and they have 34-counselors. The other sticking point by councilmembers during the last discussion was mental health clinicians, the AUSD got a grant and now has 14 mental health clinicians in the schools.
After the death at Deer Valley, Ogorchock reminded her follow council members that meetings were held and parents came out demanding SRO’s back in the schools.
Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson stated they needed to hear both sides of this story because what works well for one group, is not working for another. But they need to better look at the different kinds of trauma and experiences with the youth is going through. She called the 14 metal health clinicians a start but it was not enough.
“We really need to look at not only short-term solutions, but long-term solutions that is going to set our community up as a whole for a success. Is it the SRO’s, I don’t know. But we are hearing overwhelming in the community that people are struggling and mental health is a major issue and people need those resources to address what is going on,” explained Wilson who added they needed counselors who understood wrap around services.
Wilson stated she believed they needed more mental health and trauma experienced individuals in the schools and said she still feels the same as she did in August.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe stated he didn’t believe anyone on the council was playing politics with this issue and told the community this council takes all of the issues very seriously.
“To our young people, there was a commenter that said when did kids tell us what to do, I thought to myself, that is the problem that we keep looking at our young people with contempt,” stated Thorpe who said we should be listening to our youth and let them voice their opinions on every issue.
Thorpe was critical of Ogorchocks comment on student success.
“I am aware of student success. Just to remind folks, 72% of students at Antioch schools are part of the free and reduced lunch program. 30% are English learners. When seniors graduate, only 23% of students are prepared to go to a 4-year college or university. On the reading scores, 49% of our students don’t meet the state standards, put differently on average students were 52.1 points below meeting state standards. Mathematics, 60% of our students don’t meet state standards. Put differently, 93.9 points below meeting the state standard. So that’s to me that our teachers need all the help that they can get,” stated Thorpe. “Every once of support we can give them. In 2018, I will remind everybody, the school districts director for site safety retired and that position was then eliminated. In march of 2019, the school district cut $4 million from its budget.”
Thorpe continued by saying they cut librarians, aids, career techs, custodians and more while stating he was the only one from the council to go to the meeting and beg them not to make these cuts because these are the resources teachers need in the classroom to enhance the outcomes.
He continued, saying in May of 2019 the school district cut $1.8 million from its budget—cut library techs, the one homeless liaison serving 300 plus children, career techs, the bilingual aids.
Two months later, the city and school district get together to spend $1 million on 6 school resource officers after all the cuts being made stated Thorpe.
“In addition to that, COVID-19 has made learning very difficult. There is increased costs across all of California where they are spending millions,” stated Thorpe who highlighted the digital divide which the school district was begging for laptops. “But somehow, we can get 6 positions in school resource officers.”
Thorpe says this was not free money and it’s a $250k grant that comes annually for 3-years which the school district and city has to pay close to a million a year while the school district mysteriously found after making all these cuts.
“There are other ways, absolutely other ways to achieve school safety. Just as there are ways to increase student success,” stated Thorpe who chastised his fellow council for “mysteriously talking to the school district” stating he had already been talking to them through the ad-hoc and the ACES program which includes wait lists at schools.
Thorpe called this a “hypocrisy” because there are real needs that parents, teachers, classified employees and school district needs and they needed to be smart with resources noting he felt the same as the last vote.
Torres-Walker said he heart was heavy tonight as she has experienced violence and has been scared, but believed they could get to where they want to be if they can do it together and can recover after what happens tonight—but wanted to think strategically on how to make the community safer.
Barbanica reminded the council that the school district budget is not the City of Antioch’s, it’s a separate budget and they allocated their funds to them.
Thorpe said he points out the school district budget because as a “dad it frustrates me in their spending priorities. It absolutely frustrates me.”
Wilson then made a motion to rescind the funding, but recommended they move the funding to youth services.
City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith stated Wilson could not attach the youth service spending because it was not included in the agenda item and it would have to occur in a future agenda. Wilson then corrected her motion stating she motioned to rescind the funding of the COPS grant.
The council then voted 3-2 with Barbanica and Ogorchock dissenting.