Lawmakers probe CCSD police policies after school officer takes down student near Durango High
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Lawmakers with the Senate Education and Judiciary Committees showed a video of a Clark County School District police officer slamming a student to the ground near Durango High School during a hearing on Wednesday.
While the hearing was called to examine CCSD Police policies and procedures, specifics of the Durango High incident, including discussion about why officers approached students in the first place, were off limits.
“While we can see the incident that brought us all here, we are not going to ask questions about the incident specifically because it is an ongoing investigation,” said Senate Education Chair Roberta Lange.
Lawmakers said the hearing was not a “gotcha” hearing, but the incident needed to be discussed in an open manner.
CCSD Police Chief Mike Blackeye talked about the use of force policies, police training and a huge drop in referrals of students to juvenile justice. The chief was a little surprised when one lawmaker asked what they can do to help the police.
“I’ve been a cop for a long time. I’m not used to being asked the question about how can we help you, really not,” said the Chief.
The chief added, “You throw me off when someone asks, hey how can we help you? Because it’s not necessarily about that. People only want to talk to us when they have an issue or concern.”
Some lawmakers praised police officers, wondering how many violent incidents in school police have prevented, saying officers haven’t been thanked for the good job they do and criticized for mistakes.
“We got a lot of work to do. We’re not perfect as a school system or as a police department, but I do have confidence in our chief and our officers,” said CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara.
One of the Durango High students seen in the video told FOX5 on the scene a day after the incident he was simply trying to record the encounter on his cell phone before being placed in handcuffs. One lawmaker asked CCSD police about the public recording officers.
“We do express the importance of allowing anybody, not just students, anybody to record openly any police interaction from a safe distance. The officers on scene are reminded and trained that if their investigation is being hindered or obstructed at all by the person that’s recording, which is putting the officer at risk or any other students at risk, or the student that is recording or the person that is recording at risk, being too close to a police interaction where the use of force may be an outcome, that is obstructing our investigating,” said CCSD Police Lt. Steve Hewitt.
However, several other speakers were critical of CCSD Police and its policies.
“If I as a classroom teacher had thrown a kid down on the ground and had put my knee on their back, I would have been terminated immediately,” said former CCSD special education teacher Chris Giunchigliani.
“Officers seem to be more comfortable using force than other techniques. Officers in my opinion should either be equally trained on the ability to talk and deal with students as they are in force,” said Senator Dallas Harris.
CCSD Police have yet to say why officers contacted the group of students in the first place and have not said why force was used. FOX5 has made multiple requests to interview Chief Blackeye. The department has said it would not be appropriate for the chief to comment on an active investigation.
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