- Oakland Unified School District
- Employee Profiles
OUSD Police Services: Safety & Learning Go Hand in Hand
The OUSD Police Services’ headquarters in the historic Cole school in West Oakland is much like the building itself: understated, versatile and close to the action. Under the leadership of Chief of Police Jeff Godown, a 36-year police veteran who came to Oakland in 2014, the unit consists of 20 sworn personnel and 120 School Site Officers (SSOs) who cover both the schools and neighborhoods across the City of Oakland with one crystal clear priority: the safety of OUSD students.
The officers begin each day at 7:30 a.m and often are on duty until 10 p.m.; their long days involve solving a dizzying variety of problems that are often unpredictable and remain behind the scenes. “To me, this department is made up of a lot of unsung heroes out there handling calls all day every day,” said Godown. “For the most part, nobody hears about what we do and we don’t really mind that.”
“My job is to keep this District safe and moving forward. Our students don’t really care about who their Superintendent or Chief of Police is. All they want to do is go to school and learn in a safe environment without being bothered by conflict. We try to support them in a way that they don’t have to worry about it.”
Oakland is one of 23 school districts in California that maintains its own police department. The authority of the officers in OUSD is the same as those who work in the Oakland Police Department (OPD), but unique in that officers are tasked with responding to both schools and the general public. Police and SSOs in OUSD specialize in a school environment and are trained in approaches such as restorative justice, crisis intervention and social emotional learning. They work closely with behavioral health staff and other units in the District to handle problems holistically.
“We handle a lot of calls where students come to school and report a crime, so the crime originates outside the District but is brought in due to the nature of our work.
The crimes become part of our jurisdiction when a student comes to school to report it. It would be easy to just dump it off on OPD and let them handle it but we’re equipped to work with students and we give them a little more tender loving care that draws on our experience in schools and goes that extra mile.”
OUSD Police Services fights not only crime, but common misconceptions about their work. “The notion that officers are walking down the hallway stopping students for no reason just doesn’t exist in OUSD. Our officers are out handling calls from robberies, sexual abuse, mental illness issues, we handle the gamut – probably take around 2,000 calls per year, but what we don’t do is make a large number of arrests” he explained. “For the most part, we arrive after an incident has occurred and we handle the problem and investigation.”
“We do everything possible to have schools handle low-level offenses administratively so that students don’t enter the criminal justice system because we know that it’s very hard to get out,” he added, “We’ll use every avenue at our disposal to not arrest these kids if we can do it.”
In order to develop rapport and trust from the public and school staff alike, Police Services does extensive community work such as running an annual toy drive and reading to OUSD’s youngest students at Child Development Centers. This gradual work has paid off over time, according to Chief, “Our officers and school security officers are embedded in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Oakland, but everywhere we go we have kids and adults who come up to us in the street and know us by name.”
“We’re not here for the limelight, but we do want people to recognize that we’re trying to do good when there’s a lot of people who don’t believe in us, period” Godown explained. “We’re not educators or counselors but both police officers and the School Security Officers play an important role in the learning process, and our officers really do want to help these kids, they want to make it as safe as possible so that learning can happen.”
For an insider's perspective, Ride Along with Officer Lam and Skyline's School Site Officers