TWIN RIVERS, CA – T-shirts sold by the Twin Rivers Police Officers Association have this message: “U raise ’em, we cage ’em,” surrounding a picture of a young child behind bars.
On Monday, community leaders and child advocates said the T-shirts are highly offensive and could validate feelings of mistrust for the Twin Rivers’ school police force. The agency has been under intense scrutiny over complaints it has overstepped its authority.
“There is nowhere on the planet where it is OK to wear a shirt like this,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the University of San Diego’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, after seeing the image of the shirt.
The quote and picture is on the back of the shirt. The Twin Rivers Police Officers Association logo is on the front.
Twin Rivers police union President Arlin Kocher, an officer in the department, said the union came up with the shirts in 2009 to raise funds for the families of fallen officers. Fewer than 30 shirts were ordered; most were sold for $12 to Twin Rivers union members, Kocher said.
He now calls the shirts a mistake.
“I don’t think this will be received well by the public, which is why we stopped selling them,” Kocher said. “Our chief came to us (about a year ago) when he found out that we were selling them. He asked us to take it off the union website. Our union, especially me, take full responsibility.”
Kocher posted the T-shirt graphic on his personal Facebook page in 2009, saying he helped design the shirt, and as recently as July they were still on sale there. He changed his Facebook privacy settings Monday after The Bee contacted Twin Rivers Police Department about the shirts.
“I am deeply disappointed that any of our employees would produce anything like that, even in their off time,” said Twin Rivers Unified Superintendent Frank Porter, who oversees the police department.
Porter said he had not seen the shirts, but had them described to him Monday. He said he has a meeting scheduled for today with district Police Chief Christopher Breck.
Porter said he would confer with Breck and human resources about whether there would be any disciplinary action taken. “It’s regrettable that this occurred,” Porter said.
Twin Rivers Police Department has been increasingly scrutinized since one of its officers was shot four times Oct. 22. Hours later, the suspected shooter died in Sacramento City Police custody.
In the last two years, the department has three cases in which officers shot and wounded suspects.
With an annual operating budget of $3.7 million, it has 20 sworn officers.
State education code permits school districts to form police departments. Statewide, there are 22, although most are in Southern California.
In recent months, community members have questioned why Twin Rivers officers are making off-campus traffic stops and responding to City Police and Sheriff’s calls.
Last week, local law enforcement leaders chastised Twin Rivers for “call jumping,” or responding to calls they were not dispatched to.
The issue of “call jumping” dates back at least to January 2010, when Sacramento County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy R.C. Smith addressed the issue in a letter to Twin Rivers Chief Breck.
“Over the past year the Twin Rivers District Police Department increasingly has been responding to Sheriff’s Department calls for service that are unrelated to and geographically removed from Twin Rivers School District facilities or programs,” Smith wrote in the letter, obtained by The Bee through a Public Records Act request.
“Almost all were without the solicitation of the Sheriff’s Department.”
Cho said Twin Rivers has addressed the concerns raised in that letter and established a policy against “call jumping,” except in emergencies.
A vocal critic of Twin Rivers’ apparent call jumping is former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness, who said Monday that he was shocked to learn a police force tasked with protecting schools made such a questionable T-shirt about children.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Bad message. If it was the gang unit in a high crime area, that might be a little different. That’s bad, that’s horrible.”
Twin Rivers Police Department spokesman William Cho, who also serves as treasurer of the police union that distributed the shirts, said he understands that the public may be offended by the shirt.
“I know how it looks to a lot of people,” Cho said. “That’s not how the officers feel. They truly care about kids. As hard as it is to understand, it’s cop humor.”
Community leader Derrell Roberts said he is worried that the shirt will further perpetuate feelings in the community, particularly Del Paso Heights, that Twin Rivers Police Department is targeting them.
A large gathering is expected at tonight’s Twin Rivers Unified school board meeting at 7 p.m. at 5115 Dudley Blvd. in McClellan.
“Unfortunately, this shirt seems to confirm that this is who Twin Rivers Police are and how they think, or at least some of them,” Roberts said. “This doesn’t speak highly of the culture of this department.”
From The Sacramento Bee.