BELOIT — As many school districts across the country are terminating agreements with police departments following the death of George Floyd, local groups are looking to connect with the Beloit Police Department to get more information about what is the role of school resource officers (SROs) in Beloit schools.
On Thursday the Milwaukee Public Schools board unanimously voted to end its contract with the police to provide SROs.
Prior to the vote, the board had received a letter from the ACLU of Wisconsin supporting the contract termination and the development of a plan to reallocate funding to better meet student needs such as by providing more counselors.
The ACLU’s 2019 report, “Cops and No Counselors,” state Black students in Wisconsin are much more likely than white students to be arrested in schools.
In a letter to the editor NAACP Beloit President Dorothy Harrell said the NAACP has not taken a formal position on the use of SROs, however the national organization has asked local chapters to take a look at the programs.
In a recent guest commentary in the Daily News by Harrell, she suggested the School District of Beloit Board of Education review the police presence in schools and provide the public with data by race on suspensions, expulsions and referrals to municipal court.
The Beloit NAACP is working with the League of Women Voters to get more information on the program via a presentation and question-and-answer session with Beloit police at a Zoom meeting at 2 p.m. on July 6.
The Beloit League of Women Voters is reviewing its current positions on SROs, according to Bette Carr, Beloit League of Women Voters board member and chairperson of the education study.
“As part of that we are doing interviews and researching what other districts in the area are doing. We have always supported the school resource officers, but we are reviewing that position and seeing if any edits are needed. It’s too early to tell what our position will be.”
Carr said the League started researching the issue prior to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as the position hadn’t been looked at for several years.
SURJ-Beloit: Showing Up for Racial Justice also will be looking at its position on SROs, according to Megan Miller, a founding member of the organization which launched in 2016.
“SROs are on the docket of things to look at. The way we move forward will be guided with input from groups of people of color,” Miller said.
According to the Memorandum of Understanding between the Beloit Police Department and the School District of Beloit, the SRO program cost the district $256,985 for the 2020-2021 school year. The 4-year contract is set to expire after the 2021-2022 school year.
Beloit Police Chief David Zibolski and Sgt. Jamie Linder, who oversees the three SRO’s covering the intermediate schools and high school, said they will be presenting more information on the program in the upcoming Zoom meeting.
One SRO is stationed at the high school Monday through Friday, while the remaining three rotate among the four intermediate schools. Their primary role is to serve as crisis mitigators. SROs use restorative practices, or helping students work out their problems between themselves. SROs also participate in class programming and building relationships with youth.
By engaging in the day-to-day operations of school and the lives of students, SROs are less seen as enforcers and more as role models, mentors and even family members. The bonds can lead to students having a positive view of law enforcement. One parent commented to police on how a certain SRO helped a child go in a more positive direction.
Relationship building not only helps students emotionally, but can help prevent crime.
“There are a lot of things that start off as incidents and flow out into certain neighborhoods. Having SROs in the schools can address the situation there and also let officers know of issues,” Zibolski said. “It’s a good network for law enforcement to get in front of conflicts which start in school which could result in larger conflicts in the public venue.”
Linder explained how all the SROs are trained in a model which focuses on education and mediation before enforcement action.
Zibolski said data is sent to schools regarding citations issued or referrals made for internal action by the district. He noted the schools have their own security guards which handle internal matters so SROs are not involved in enforcing school policy.
“Arrests are not very common in the schools,” Zibolski said.
Zibolski said a year ago there was a lot of support for mandating officers in schools because of active shooter situations which have occurred at schools around the country.
He said the program can also be a great long-term recruitment strategy to get police departments more diversified by getting students interested in a career in law enforcement.