Jail bus gives disadvantaged kids a ride to California beach, outraging parents

Screengrab from Facebook

When a bus with barred windows pulled up to take her niece and granddaughter to a day-long surf camp, Ramona Bingham couldn’t believe her eyes, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“The bus that drove into the parking lot was the San Diego County Sheriff’s bus and I know what that bus is, I know what it is typically used for,” Bingham said, KNSD reported.

The sheriff’s department provided the buses, normally used to move prisoners, for the annual Star/Pal Surf Clinic, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The buses brought about 100 children, mostly from underserved neighborhoods, to and from the Del Mar beach event.

Mom Kimberly Steele says her 8-year-old daughter told her she enjoyed the clinic but rode on a bus with “cages” inside, KABC reported.

“My kid is in a jail bus,” Steele said, according to the station. “What does it look like when she gets off the bus in Del Mar and it’s a bunch of blacks and Mexican kids?”

Bingham refused to let her niece and granddaughter board the bus, calling it “insulting,” and drove them to the event herself, KUSI reported.

“Can someone explain this?!?!” wrote Jay Caldwell on Facebook with a photo of one of the buses. “No way in hell!! Inner city kids were provided this bus to go to an event in Del Mar.”

In a letter, NAACP San Diego President Clovis Honoré called the use of the buses “inappropriate,” KNSD reported.

“Children don’t belong in environments meant to cage and hold adults,” Honoré wrote, according to the station. “It is entirely inappropriate for any children at any time for any reason.”

Monica Montgomery of the San Diego City Council also expressed concern in a statement posted to Twitter.

‘I stand with the community and the parents that have expressed their concerns,” Montgomery wrote. “I share the same concerns and have requested that these buses no longer be used for this purpose.”

In a statement, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department says it regularly provides the buses free of charge to events as a community service, KUSI reported.

“We also provide this service during the Special Olympics, bicycle giveaways, Shop with a Cop, Surf with a Cop, Teddy Bear Drive, as well as providing safety presentations at elementary schools among others,” reads the statement, according to the station. The buses also have been used for wildfire evacuations.

Sheriff’s officials say one bus has been set aside for community programs, and that all buses are cleaned nightly, KUSI reported.

Organizers of the surf clinic say it’s the first time they’ve heard complaints about the sheriff’s buses, KABC reported.

“If it’s not working then it is something that needs to be evaluated and quite frankly the funding would have to be discussed as well, but we have to do so much with so little money already, so it would really need the support to rally behind us,” said Claire LeBeau, executive director of the program, according to the station.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.