Madison Police squad car

Fewer criminal charges and civil citations are being pursued against individuals who are arrested at or near Madison high schools, newly released data show.

The number fell 16 percent between school years 2012-13 and 2014-15, the Madison School District said Friday.

District officials say it’s evidence that their goal of keeping young people out of the criminal justice system whenever possible is starting to show results.

“This reflects a philosophical shift not only in principle but in practice,” said Luis Yudice, the district’s safety and security coordinator. “I think it’s safe to say, on this aspect, that both the Madison School District and the Madison Police Department are clearly aligned in reducing the number of young people being referred into the criminal justice system.”

The report on arrests is scheduled to be discussed by School Board members at a work session at 5:15 p.m. Monday at the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St.

The report will be part of a larger discussion on education resource officers, or EROs, the uniformed and armed Madison police officers who work inside high schools.

The district contracts with the city to provide four police officers, one at each of the main high schools. The district spends about $350,000 annually on the contract. The board is reviewing the three-year contract, which is set to expire this summer.

Videotaped incidents elsewhere in the country have shown police officers on school campuses seeming to use unnecessary force in responding to ordinary student discipline issues. Yudice said it’s “a valid issue” that is best addressed by having clear policies on how and when police officers are used in schools.

He believes the district’s policy does that well. It states, in part, that the district’s goal is “to minimize police involvement for minor student infractions that should be managed with the Behavior Education Plan.” The plan, now in its second year, lays out expectations for students and potential consequences, with a goal of reducing expulsions and suspensions.

According to the newly released report, which is based on Madison Police Department data, there were 82 incidents during the 2012-13 school year that led to arrests. Those arrested faced 135 criminal charges and civil citations.

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The comparison data for 2014-15 showed a drop to 69 incidents that led to arrests, resulting in 114 criminal charges and civil citations.

There are caveats with the data. A single incident can involve the arrests of multiple people, and an arrest can lead to more than one charge or citation for an individual.

So it is not possible from this data set to determine the number of individuals arrested. However, district officials said it is reasonable to infer that fewer students are being arrested.

Also, incidents occurring anywhere on or adjacent to a high school campus or across the street from the campus were captured in the data. So in a handful of cases, district officials said, the person arrested may have been an adult or a juvenile not currently enrolled in the district.

Black individuals were more likely to be arrested and cited than non-black individuals, the district said. However, “there has been a consistent decrease in arrest incidents and arrest charges for African-American individuals over the last three years,” the report said.

In a separate data category unrelated to arrests, the district said the number of citations issued for truancy fell 19 percent, from 134 to 108, between the comparison years.

Board President James Howard called the trends “obviously a good thing” while predicting that Monday’s discussion about EROs will be much broader. Board member TJ Mertz said he thinks EROs do a lot of good in the high schools, yet he said he still has concerns about students entering the criminal justice system for relatively minor matters and the role EROs play in that.

“I don’t know what that means as far as any possible changes, but I do have those concerns, and I think we can come up with changes that make that less likely,” he said.

Board member Anna Moffit said the district has been offering staff members more training on working with students with challenging behaviors and mental health needs. She would like to see opportunities expand in those areas for EROs too, she said.

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