The Milwaukee Police Administration Building in downtown Milwaukee. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Among the most controversial results of the shared revenue deal struck between political leaders in Milwaukee, the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers was the mandatory return of School Resource Officers (SRO’s) to the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system. In 2020, the school board voted to discontinue a contract between the MPS and the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD). The removal of police from schools was the result of years of organizing by students who argued that they didn’t feel safe with the officers patrolling the halls.
The deal that helped Milwaukee avert fiscal catastrophe also reversed the wishes of those students as well as administrators and the school board. By Jan. 1, at least 25 new SROs were supposed to be hired by MPS and deployed to its schools. But the officers were not yet on duty by that deadline. A spokesperson for the police department said that the department has been in communication with MPS “on fulfilling the school resource officer requirement in a manner that best meets the needs of our community.” The department added that it anticipates, “a collaborative positive partnership with MPS and its students.”
Not everyone is persuaded that a positive partnership is possible. Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), a group of young activists who fought to sever ties between MPS and MPD, expressed apprehension in a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner. “We can’t speak to MPS’s process, but what we can say is that LIT adamantly disagrees with the decision to force the district to reinstate police officers into schools,” the group states“Not only did students organize for them to be removed and the Board of Directors voted to end the district’s contract with MPS in 2020, but research shows that cops do not keep students safe. In fact, students, especially Black and Brown students and students with disabilities experience higher rates of harassment, surveillance and unnecessary disciplinary action when cops are present. We are continuing to urge MPS and others to stick to their promise to students.”
Last year, as negotiations over the shared revenue deal unfolded, Republican lawmakers and representatives from the Milwaukee Police Association began to argue for a return of resource officers. During the fall 2022 semester, there were 778 calls for service to 34 MPS high schools. Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson signaled an openness to returning police to schools. During public hearings at the Legislature, current and former students testified that police tended to be rougher with students than seemingly required and that arrests and being detained by police had negative impacts on young people.
In a statement to local TV news station TMJ4 MPS said that the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), the Administrators and Supervisors Council, district staff and community members are working together to “develop a plan, in partnership with MPD, that redefines the previous role of the school resource officer.” The statement added that MPS has visited public schools in Washington D.C., as well as Atlanta, Fulton County, and Bibb County in Georgia to observe SRO programs for best practices. “We look forward to submitting our plan to the Milwaukee Board of School Directors,” the statement concluded. “MPS anticipates a collaborative, positive partnership with key stakeholders moving forward.”
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