Report Card

News and discussion on K-12 schools in the greater Sacramento region

September 13, 2012
Questions remain over Twin Rivers school police dog

lacosse.sales.JPGTwin Rivers' Acting Police Chief Scott LaCosse may be in his final days on the job, but the questions that led to his resignation remain. LaCosse and Lt. Mike Sales gave the school district their 30 days' notice on Aug. 28 after school trustees overruled their decision to discontinue the school police force's K9 program.

In a letter sent to school board members on Wednesday, LaCosse said he is "hopeful, but not optimistic, that you will recognize your folly in spending your time 'down in the weeds' rather than setting policy direction and relying on your professional management staff to carry it out."

Here is LaCosse's letter in its entirety.
From: Scott.LaCosse

Board Direction Regarding K9 Trustees,

The discussion and vote on August 28th regarding the District's patrol K9, as well as comments made by Trustees to the media following the vote, left little question as to the board majority's direction regarding the animal's deployment. That direction, as a review of the audio recording of the meeting and subsequent media coverage will make clear, was that the dog was to be moved to day shift and that the dog's potential as a conduit for improved interaction between students and TRPD Officers be maximized.

Consequently I took action the following morning to move the handler and dog to day shift. The dog and handler began their first daytime shift this Monday. They have been instructed to be at one of our High School campuses every weekday during the lunch hour, other calls for service permitting. The handler has been directed to have the dog out of the car, on lead, and interacting with students consistent with the desire of the board majority.

Tuesday the 11th was the first day the team was able to be on campus during lunch and they spent the lunch hour at Foothill High School. As they were directed to go to the District's campuses in alphabetical order, today they were to have gone to Grant High School.

I had a discussion with Principal Murray this morning during which he expressed concerns about having a patrol K9 on campus and asked that I not have the dog deployed at Grant. He further indicated that his staff, students, parents and alumni were also opposed to having the dog on the campus and that in prior employment he had been sued as a result of a patrol K9 biting a student.

Principal Murray's concerns were valid and were among those I had when I recommended to the Acting Superintendant that the program be discontinued. Mr. Murray is a professional educator and administrator who has been tasked with making decisions within his area of responsibility. As a professional with similar albeit different responsibilities, I was unwilling to substitute my judgment, or that of others, for his. The dog remained off the Grant campus. Campus visits will resume at lunch time tomorrow at Highlands High.

I bring this matter to your attention in that it is now incumbent on the four of you, having delved into operational and deployment issues, to clarify your direction to staff regarding the use of the dog for public relations purposes. As I had a working police K9, I am unable to advise you as to how to proceed with the animal in a public relations or youth engagement role. My opinion, which I shared recently with Acting Superintendant Williams, is that you have made it clear that the Acting Superintendant and Acting Police Chief do not have the authority to make these decisions without board approval. While I am informed that one of the four of you has already asked the Acting Superintendant to direct me to discontinue what I understood to be your direction, I believe you will all agree that Board direction requires 72 hours of public notice and a public meeting.

As I am completing my time with the District this week your eventual direction to staff will be of little consequence to me. I do believe it is important for you to clarify these issues for TRPD staff and school site staff who remain. I know Mr. Murray is not the only Principal who has serious concerns about having a patrol K9 on his or her campus.

The questions you seem to have obligated yourselves to publically discuss include:

• If the Superintendant and Police Chief cannot make deployment decisions about the dog, can principals prohibit the presence of the dog on their campuses for non-enforcement activities?

• Would the board be willing to develop a list of K9 approved and disapproved campuses following public input from parents? The parents at the August meeting were from a very small number of the District's 60+ campuses and are not likely a representative sample. Further, a number of the speakers were not parents of District students.

• What direction do you give staff in regards to addressing the sensitivities of those communities or parents that would prefer their children not be exposed to a patrol K9 while at district schools?

• How would you like staff to deal with those children or staff that have a significant fear of dogs, or who are allergic to animal dander?

• Should the handler have the dog on-lead, or off-lead?

No doubt there are many additional questions on this subject about which staff will need your direction in the coming weeks. That direction will be competing with other issues to include:

• Budget cuts of $5 to $16 million dependant on passage of the Governor's Tax Initiative

• Completing a response to the Grand Jury in the next sixteen days (TRPD's Response was complete the day the report was publically released)

• Selecting a permanent superintendent

• Selecting new legal representation and addressing significant legal bills

• Stabilizing enrollment which is now projected to be declining after 4 years of increases

• Adoption of new state and national guidelines for academic performance (Common Core Standards)

• Exodus of the District's administrative team

I am hopeful, but not optimistic, that you will recognize your folly in spending your time "down in the weeds" rather than setting policy direction and relying on your professional management staff to carry it out. Working for your district has been an eye-opening experience for me, despite a 32 year career in local law enforcement. Do the right thing for this District's students; put your egos, personal and political agendas aside and prove Mark Twain was mistaken about school boards.

Good luck.

Scott LaCosse, Acting ChiefTwin Rivers District Police Department

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About Report Card

Loretta KalbLoretta Kalb started her reporting career at The Sacramento Union, moved to KOVR-13 as a television reporter, editor and producer, headed to The Associated Press in San Francisco and eventually returned to Sacramento and joined The Sacramento Bee. Throughout her career, she has covered the state Legislature, courts, local government and, now, education. She is a Chico native and an Elk Grove resident.

Diana LambertDiana Lambert began her journalism career as a proofreader at the Lodi News-Sentinel. She is now a senior writer at The Sacramento Bee covering K-12 education and California State University, Sacramento. Previously she was The Bee’s Elk Grove bureau chief. Lambert was raised in a military family and lived at bases around the globe. She attended four high schools, graduating from Tokay High in Lodi and then Sacramento State University. She lives in Elk Grove.

(916) 321-1073
Twitter: @LorettaSacBee
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