Officer in schools

Police officers who help ensure safety at Madison schools deserve support, not bureaucratic hurdles and limits on what they can do.

Having frightened parents for more than a year with talk of pulling police officers out of Madison’s high schools, a school district committee last week finally abandoned its bad idea.

Thank goodness.

Three Madison students in two incidents were injured by gunfire in less than a week near La Follette High School on Madison’s East Side this month. Two teenagers were accidentally shot by another on a bus picking up students at the end of the school day. Another shooting occurred last week during a fight near the high school. Neither shooter was a La Follette student, police said.

La Follette is a good school with lots of smart young people with promising futures. But ongoing and scary incidents of violence there and at other city schools should prompt more security, not less.

Thankfully, La Follette administrators got the message last week. They wisely started screening students with metal-detecting wands as students entered the school building to help ensure guns aren’t brought inside.

Yet the ad hoc school district committee that’s been scrutinizing the role of “educational resource officers” in city high schools continues to push for limits and complications to the school police officers’ difficult jobs.

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The committee is suggesting that EROs, as they are called, not enforce school policies or rules, which doesn’t make sense. If an officer spots a student skipping class or causing trouble — even if that doesn’t rise to the level of a crime — the officer should still be able to stop and question the student in the same way a teacher or principal would.

The committee also wants to limit ERO investigations of potentially criminal incidents off campus to only those that could “have significant potential to impact student and/or school safety.” That’s vague and limits the effectiveness of officers near a school.

The most ridiculous suggestion, floated by School Board member Dean Loumos, is to forbid school police officers from parking their police vehicles on school property, which happens to be their work site. Most parents driving past a school are comforted by the sight of a police car in front of a school building. It reassures them, in an era of deadly school shootings across the country, that an officer is present in case of an emergency. A police car in front of a school also encourages motorists to slow down in school zones, which protects pedestrians.

Loumos and other school officials should stop trying to micromanage the very small number of police officers who help keep our high schools safe. The district contracts with the city for a single officer at each high school. With each school educating more than 1,500 students, that’s more people per officer than the population of many small towns in Wisconsin.

A handful of parents and students seem to think school police officers are unfair or even racist in targeting minority students. Yet all of the EROs are black or Latino. They are highly trained professionals and impressive role models. We have yet to hear any credible complaints of misconduct.

The full School Board should emphatically reassure the public that police officers in our high schools will be allowed to continue to do their jobs — without complicated, bureaucratic rules that deter talented people from applying for these crucial positions.

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