Tuesday, August 8, 2017

[San Bernardino County] Apple Valley Unified limits district police’s jurisdiction after Grand Jury report

The Apple Valley Unified School District sharply curtailed district police power Thursday night, five weeks after a San Bernardino County Grand Jury report that raised questions about towing practices conducted on behalf of the district.
The school board approved a memorandum of understanding between the district and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department at Thursday night’s school board meeting. The new rules mostly limit the school police to enforcing the law at school campuses and at school-related activities off campus.
The agreement states that the school police have “full police powers” and should investigate nearly all criminal activity on school property related to school activities. But the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is in charge of investigations in cases of murder, kidnapping, child abuse, rape, arson, possession or explosion of a destructive device, grand theft auto, felony hit and run, and felony DUI. School police are also responsible for investigating all misdemeanors on school grounds, or when the district is responsible for students.
The school police do have some limited authority to deal with criminal activities involving students outside of school property, according to the agreement, when the district is providing transportation for a pupil to and from school premises, during off-campus school-sponsored activities, or other times when the district has legal responsibility or liability for the students during the course of the normal school day.
After-hours investigations, even for burglary calls on campus, are to be the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department. The grand jury report specifically mentioned school police had previously conducted traffic stops leading to vehicles being towed outside the jurisdiction of the AVUSD Police Department or after hours.
School board president Wilson So read out a brief statement after the board emerged from behind closed doors at Thursday night’s school board meeting, the first since the grand jury report was issued.
“The board has read and considered the grand jury’s June 28, 2017 report on the AVUSD School Police Department,” he said. “In closed session, the board gave direction to the superintendent and counsel to continue preparing the district’s response for filing with the presiding judge of the Superior Court by Sept. 28.”
The school district has 90 days from the time of the release of the grand jury report on June 30 to respond.
“The board directed the superintendent and the district chief of police to continue their examination and upgrading of school police procedures and practices in consideration of the primary mission of school police to assure student and staff safety at school and at school activities, and to protect district property,” So continued. “School police will be patrolling schools and school zones as school begins on Aug. 9. We encourage everyone to be mindful of student safety as they drive near district schools.”
In a statement issued by the district’s law firm on Friday, the district clarified that its response to the grand jury report would be publicly available.
The 727 vehicles towed on behalf of the district cited in the grand jury’s report are two-and-a-half times the amount towed by San Bernardino City Unified, a district almost four times the size of Apple Valley Unified, and four times more than the vehicles towed by Fontana Unified, a district more than twice Apple Valley Unified’s size.
Until recently, Big Apple Automotive, which has two locations in Apple Valley and one in Victorville, was the lone towing service employed by Apple Valley Unified. The company is owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack Collingsworth. He served one term on the Council, from 1988 through 1992.
And what happened to almost one third of the cars towed by Big Apple Automotive on behalf of the school district is a mystery. The company could not account for roughly 30 percent -- 510 of the towed vehicles -- when asked by the grand jury to produce records.
An unknown number of the vehicles were sold by the company to cover fees and towing charges. Only drivers of bank-owned vehicles still being financed received notices, informing them of their right to a hearing to determine the legality of the impound.
The grand jury also determined that, as the number of vehicles towed by AVUSD police steadily increased from 2014 through 2016, police interaction with students declined.
And in May 2015, the school board approved an increase of vehicle release fees for vehicles towed by district police from $95 to $120, which the grand jury said was illegal. State law only allows for a city, county or state agency to authorize vehicle release fee increases, according to the grand jury, noting the AVUSD Police Department is a special district.
August 4, 2017
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
By Beau Yarbrough

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