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Is the conversation over the relationship between La Crosse schools and city police just beginning or already decided?

Rick Solem

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The idea of ending the current, and longtime, relationship between the La Crosse School District and the city’s police department came up at a school board meeting Monday.

The two entities currently have a $250,000 contract that ends next June, which pays police for School Resource Officers (SROs) and a D.A.R.E officer throughout the school district.

A recent email (in full at bottom of story) from Logan High School principal Wally Gnewikow states, in part, “It is possible that a motion could be made to move towards eliminating or to eliminate the SRO program this Monday night (June 22). To our knowledge, school administration, schoolwork groups (including teachers) parents and students have not been (to this point) been asked for feedback regarding SROs or the roles they play within our schools.”

School Board President Laurie Cooper Stoll, Wednesday on La Crosse Talk PM, brought up the fiscal and evidentiary side — or lack thereof — to not renewing the contract with police.

“Those monies could certainly go toward other services — so trained crisis counselors, social workers, parent advocates, as just a few examples,” she said. “So there’s a fiscal question to this, a fiscal responsibility piece to this, that I would hope anyone in our community would expect us to be asking questions about.

“If we believe that it’s a safety issue, we need to take account of the fact that there is no compelling empirical evidence that shows that officers in schools make those schools safer, but there’s compelling evidence that they make them less safe for black and brown students,” she added.

Thursday on La Crosse Talk PM, Assistant Police Chief Rob Abraham talked of his time as a D.A.R.E Officer early in his career. The relationships he built, that he hears about from past students years later, and the benefits he’s seen with SROs, which have been in La Crosse schools since 1993.

He also basically argued that for any study on one side of an argument, you can find studies on the other side, bringing up the benefits of SROs — including fiscally — plus, he thought there might be more at play to ending the relationship between police and school.

“I think that those things (benefits) are getting overlooked based on knee-jerk reactions and possibly personal agendas at the school board level,” he said.

“When you look at these statements made, and the comments made on the articles written by News 8 and WIZM and the Tribune, those comments dramatically talk about wanting School Resource Officers in their building,” Abraham added. “So, when you have a board, or a board member, who thinks opposite, they need to remember who they’re representing. They’re not representing themselves and their ideas. They’re representing the people who voted them in and elected them to those positions.”

While Gnewikow’s email hints that the board may end the contract with police Monday, Cooper Stoll’s demeanor on WIZM was that this was the beginning of the conversation and the beginning of some deep look into the relationship between police and students — especially those of color — not something that would be final in the next few days.

“I want to be clear about process here first,” she said. “Things come before the board as information items, which is what happened at the board meeting this past week. Then they would come forward as an action item. On the board agenda, for our next meeting, would be to see whether or not there is a consensus on the board to form a subcommittee to try to get to the bottom of some of these questions.”

And those questions hovered around the benefits and cost benefits to having SROs. Abraham talked about some board members possibly having agendas, and Cooper Stoll did point to the negative impact that the black community is feeling in schools and, also, that there are SROs at schools.

“As a social scientist, I’m not going to draw a toggle link between those two points,” she said. “But, it’s one thing to say, ‘We have had officers in our schools for a very long time.’ It is also a thing to say, ‘We continue to have racial disparities in our school.’

“And, that there may be some correlation there that we certainly need to investigate. These things are happening in tandem. So, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every suspension is somehow related to an SRO. I will say, there is data to indicate that, when it comes to, particularly students of color in school, where there are SROs, there is a higher likelihood that they would be ticketed or arrested.”

Below is Gnewikow’s email, which does encourage people to provide input. The school board can be contacted by clicking here. The list of SROs is here. Police Chief Shawn Kudron’s contact is here.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM and "liberal hack" | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Patricia

    June 19, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    My concern is for the safety supervision and success of the students and staff in our schools.
    I think it would be a big mistake to remove SROs from our schools. In addition to what the Asst Chief states I think they provide security and a highly trained and skilled negotiator. The SRO is a trained pair of eyes watching over students that can identify bullying, physical or emotional concerns with in the student body or staff.
    I don’t know about the numbers or percents regarding suspensions or detentions but I believe Cordero Gilliam is a man of color and you maybe should see how his stats stack up to Heath Graves if you are using them to access anything related to black-white-brown.

  2. Avatar

    Patricia

    June 19, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Laurie Cooper Stoll. I would be interested in your compelling evidence that cops in schools make them less safe for some students. I’d also like to say to you that social workers, crisis counselors and parent advocates are often available through other community resources and through insurance.
    I feel like every student has the possibility of a good relationship with the SRO and the student staff and SRO should conduct themselves to preserve that relationship as precious and lifelong

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