Officer Joseph Knuteson eyed the teen who slouched in his office at Hoover High School. Someone had seen him smoking something outside. Past drug problems scarred his school records and even as he denied smoking, a grin kept sneaking up on his mouth.
Knuteson searched his backpack, turned up a lighter and papers, smelled the teen’s hands. When one of the school coaches stepped into the office, nudging him to ‘fess up, the boy admitted it was “a little joint.”
That confession could get him in big trouble, even arrested. But Knuteson decided not to discipline him. Knuteson and the coach reminded the teen that colleges were trying to recruit him as an athlete. They sent the boy to drug counseling at the school clinic instead.
“You’ve got Division I colleges looking at you — and you’re smoking doobies before school? Are you kidding me?” Knuteson ribbed him with a grin. The boy left sheepishly with his backpack.
Like many school police officers, Knuteson says one of the best things about the job is the luxury of time — time to talk to a teen and his coach, to try a softer tack, check in later and see how it worked. Crimes outside of school don’t pull him away from campus. His job is to be right there at Hoover.
But as San Diego Unified faces another year of budget cuts, the school board is weighing whether it’s a luxury to have school police at all. Running a separate department isn’t unusual in large urban school districts like New York and Los Angeles. San Diego Unified has had its own school police since the tumult of the civil rights movement.