MILWAUKEE – Student violence is a serious problem in Milwaukee Public Schools – a sure sign that too many kids are headed for a tragic future in the criminal justice system.
Yet the Milwaukee school board has decided put the brakes on a proactive program that has allowed Milwaukee police officers to meet with students in classroom settings for the past few years, to help them better understand law enforcement and stay out of trouble.
Many critics attacked the program for various reasons, and asked the school board to end it.
One parent was upset because students were asked to pledge that they would follow curfew laws, and never run from, fight with or argue with police, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“It teaches students the police are correct and that the problem is really the youth,” Lorraine Malcoe, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told the Journal Sentinel. “It teaches students not to question authority.”
Some would say that more respect for authority might be a healthy thing in Milwaukee schools, considering the district’s track record.
A recent report issued by Newstalk113, called “Blood on the Blackboard: Violence Against Teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools,” offered some startling student discipline statistics.
“As of May 25th, there have been more than 31,000 referrals issued in Milwaukee Public Schools this year for fighting or violent or aggressive behavior toward classmates or staff members—an average of more than 172 per day,” the report said.
“There have been 646 referrals for sexual assault this year, and 399 for weapons in schools.”
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The Milwaukee school district also has a history of frequent police calls to its various campuses. A 2014 study conducted by School Choice Wisconsin found that police were summoned to MPS schools 8,762 times in 2010-11, 12,910 times in 2011-12 and 11,751 times in 2012-13.
During that time frame, the district averaged 15.9 police calls per 1,000 students for violent offenses and 22.8 police calls per 1,000 students for “trouble with juvenile subject.”
That pattern goes back a few years. In 2006-07 there were 11,152 police calls to MPS schools, a figure that John Balcerzak, president of the local police union, called “shocking.”
“There is a crisis inside our school systems,” he was quoted as saying in a 2007 Journal Sentinel article.
Yet critics demanded an end to the STOP program (Students Talking it Over with Police), “which was designed to bring students ages 12 to 17 closer to law enforcement in a positive way and familiarize themselves with police practices,” the Journal Sentinel reported.
The program, operated by the Milwaukee Police Department, had been in place since 2012..
Critics noted some parts of the program they didn’t care for:
“Among the concerns: a classroom skit in which an actual police officer pretends to pull out a gun and threatens to shoot if a student runs away — and then repeatedly yells: ‘Bang, bang, bang,'” the Journal Sentinel reported.
Robert Smith, a professor at UW-Milwaukee and an MPS parent, said he was troubled that students were asked to pledge that they will not run from, fight with, or argue with police.
“It tells kids to never run from police or stay out past curfew,” Smith told the Journal Sentinel. “Well, what if they are going to harm my son, or he has to be out late that night?”
The school district also recently criticized the program, before halting it just before the end of the school year and announcing it will not return in the fall.
“In a statement released last week, MPS officials said they reviewed the program and concluded it ‘could be improved,’” the newspaper report said. “They said the curriculum needed to be more age appropriate, role-playing skits needed to be more sensitive to students who have experienced trauma, and the possibility of police misconduct needed to be addressed.”