Secret Police in Schools

Secret police don’t have a good reputation in America. The Nazis, Soviets and East Germans gave them a bad name. Since America is The Only Exceptional Nation, we don’t have secret police. We have “undercover officers.” Our secret police pretend to be students, entrap classmates and help create a climate of suspicion and fear on campus. Why? For a look at what’s going on right now, try these interesting and troubling pieces at teenvogue.com, vice.com, and rollingstone.com.

Today I want to share some documents out of my high school files. They shed a little light on how our government bureaucracies find eager recruits and how they seek to coopt and flatter their critics. This is a curious little slice of history.

1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_aWhen I was a teenage high school student in the mid-1970s, I thought it outrageous that my city would put a higher priority on secret police than it did on textbooks. I figured that teenagers ought to work through the system to be heard. Surely there would be some grownups who would be able to appreciate the corrosive, anti-intellectual consequences of putting “undercover” cops in classrooms. Smart people would be able to stop this expensive, completely unproductive practice.

At the start of the 1975-1976 school year, the LA County District Attorney announced the1975_1008_Scott_Pearce_DA_ID_b formation of The District Attorney’s Youth Council. Here’s the press release from September 18, 1975. “Everyone knows that the juvenile crime problem has multiplied in recent years. Perhaps by explaining some of the functions of the criminal justice system to these student delegates, and having them go back to address social science and government classes, we can further some understanding of the law.”

January 1, 1976

January 1, 1976

Here’s the DA’s October 8, 1975 letter appointing me to the DA’s Youth Council. Here are DA letters about meetings from October 27, 1975, January 9, 1976, February 19, 1976 and May 7, 1976. It’s worth mentioning that California’s marijuana laws changed dramatically on January 1, 1976, when possession of an ounce or less was decriminalized.

The meeting referred to in the January 9, 1976 letter featured a discussion about “The Presence of Open and Undercover Police in Schools.” Representatives from the DA’s management team and the LAPD were on hand. I think I got to address the group for about 45 seconds – and, speaking as a student-athlete and not as a representative of the counterculture, I told them that secret police were a much bigger problem at Hollywood High than drug use among students. I said it reflects poorly on Los Angeles that it can afford to put “undercover” police in classrooms that don’t have enough books. As I spoke, I noticed some of the parents and teachers in the room appreciated my comments – and absolutely none of the prosecutors or cops were favorably impressed.

The DA’s office sent me a nice letter on May 17, 1976, which is reproduced below. The LA County District Attorney wrote, “Your deliberations have been particularly valuable to me in evaluating the policies and attitudes of this office in regard to juvenile justice and undercover narcotics operations on high school campuses.” That’s nice – I guess my ideas helped the DA conclude that the secret police operations should be expanded on high school campuses!

Here’s an interesting LA Times article from 2006, explaining how the City Youth Council is a nice training ground for future politicians and lawyers. It features some nice students who are looking to polish their skills and their resumes.

Too much wealth and power rest in too few hands. How come the American People don’t rise up and do something about their own oppression? Maybe one reason is that the last couple of generations have been warehoused in schools that frighten them into submissive obedience.

1976_0516_DA-Scott_Pearce

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