Desert Hot Springs High School Safety Issues Forum


On Monday night, the City of Desert Hot Springs hosted a municipal forum with the City Police Department and the Palm Springs Unified School District to address high school safety issues in Desert Hot Springs, ranging from bullying and abuse. racism in gang activity.

Desert Hot Springs Police Chief Jim Henson said his department had responded to 117 high school calls for service since August. Henson said 102 of those calls were for “proactive patrolling” and 15 could relate to specific incidents, including a student with a knife.

“The problem at school is no different than any other school,” Henson said at the town hall forum, which was attended by about 40 people.

Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas said he and other city officials “heard from students and parents that fighting was taking place frequently.”

Last week, a video – posted on social media – captured a campus brawl between what appeared to be a dozen or more students.

“The most recent incident involves weapons and / or potential weapons, gang activity and derogatory racial statements,” Matas said. “We are a diverse community and racism should not be tolerated in any form at any age. “

He added: “We are in a situation where students are afraid and parents are reluctant to send their children to school.”

Leader: Incidents can be linked to 2 rival gangs

Henson said some of the incidents are likely linked to fewer than 20 students with ties to two rival gangs he wouldn’t name.

He added that the police department had a productive meeting with school district officials on Thursday and hired several officers to Palm Springs Unified on Friday at no additional cost to the district.

Henson said he hopes a school resources manager will be back on campus by the end of October or early November. In August, he and Cathedral City Police Chief, along with Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, publicly criticized the suspension of the School Resource Officers program.

School resource officers – who are sworn police officers – have not been present at high schools in the district since the start of the 2021-22 school year in August, as the district reworks its campus safety program and finalizes the police contracts with the police forces and the municipal councils concerned.

Desert Hot Springs has yet to approve a school resources manager contract for the 2021-22 school year, but city council will review the contract at its meeting on Tuesday night.

Henson said in August that the suspension of the program not only endangers the students and staff at Desert Hot Springs High School, but also endangers the entire community. “They kidnap the only officer we have to meet at any school at any time,” Henson told the Desert Sun. This change could increase an officer’s response time from seconds to minutes, or even more, he added.

Following: Palm Springs Unified School Board unanimously approves new school resource manager contracts

Following: Palm Springs Council Approves School Resources Officer Contract – With Funding Change

Following: Palm Springs Unified School Resource Officers absent for now, as district rethinks school policing

After Henson and Matas spoke on Monday evening, about 10 community members raised concerns about student safety, racism and bullying.

A mother said her son was afraid to report armed students to police over possible reprisals from gangs.

She said her son told her, “Mom, you don’t understand. They will come after us. They will find us and they will hurt us – you, our family. You don’t understand how serious this is. “

Another parent said she enrolled her daughter with special needs in self-defense classes to prepare for physical confrontations with bullies. “She’s physically ill when I tell her she has to go to school.… The point is, she doesn’t feel protected,” the mother added. “I give you my child to educate. Keep her safe.”

Others said school administrators, teachers and security guards were not doing enough to keep students safe. In 2020, approximately 1,800 students attended the school located at 65850 Pierson Blvd.

“Children have the right to do whatever they want”

During the public comments, Palm Springs Unified Executive Director of Student Support Services Laura Meusel made a brief statement on behalf of the district.

“I know that your first concern as a parent is the safety of your child, and I appreciate all of the comments tonight. I like the partnership. It is our responsibility to work together to ensure the safety of our students. Together with the police, city, school administration and district, we are here to solve problems and work together in the future.

Other commentators have said law enforcement needs to be on campus to establish authority.

Still others, including the police chief and the mayor, said state policies were partly responsible for the lack of law enforcement on and around the high school campus.

“Sadly, we’re at the pendulum where kids are kind of off limits to law enforcement as well as the school district,” Henson said. “Maybe ten years ago it was over on the other side. Now we see (a) extreme where kids are allowed to do whatever they want to do.

For example, Henson said officers cannot give out absenteeism tickets due to relaxed attendance policies related to COVID-19.

Matas suggested that the city council could pursue a criminal injunction against gangs active near the high school. Desert Hot Springs previously invoked a criminal injunction against gangs in 2009.

“I am sure the current City Council and in partnership with the Palm Springs Unified School District and our schools will not be averse to spending every available dollar to move on to another gang injunction and / or social programs to ensure the safety of our children, ”said Matas.

In addition to Matas, representing the town of Desert Hot Springs at the meeting were the four members of City Council as well as City Manager Luke Rainey, Deputy City Manager Doria Wilms and Deputy City Manager Daniel Porras.

Commanders Corinn Lindsay and Daud Chang represented the Desert Hot Springs Police Department with Henson.

And, Palm Springs Unified Executive Director of Security, Levaughn Smart, and Administrator John Gerardi attended Meusel.

Jonathan Horwitz covers education for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] or @Writes_Jonathan.

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