RACINE — A partnership between the Racine Police Department and Racine Unified School District that brought Community Oriented Policing into some of the schools has been successful in decreasing student citations and forming positive relationships.
Racine Police Chief Art Howell pitched the idea to the Unified School Board as well as to the City of Racine about two years ago. Howell, along with Deputy Chief Bill Macemon, told the School Board on Feb. 19 of the project’s achievements so far.
“At this point, we seem to be getting some positive results,” Macemon said.
The program began at the start of the 2016-17 school year, when full-time school COP officers were stationed in Park and Horlick high schools.
These officers deal not only with security issues and disruptions in the schools, but also dig deeper to discover the source of problems that hold students back.
“Their focus is not only to be just a law enforcement officer, but to engage in problem-solving with administration to start really making sure the schools are as safe as possible, not just treating symptoms but getting down to the original causes,” Macemon said. They also want to build relationships with students.”
Then-Racine Police Chief Richard Polzin started the COP model in the city in 1993. It focuses on building long lasting relationships with community members in order to reduce crime. The focal point of the program has been the neighborhood COP houses.
With the Unified-COP partnership, police are looking to find alternatives to arrest and to criminal sanctions for students who break the rules. It seems to be working.
Since the implementation of the program, calls for police service at the schools have decreased from 636 in the first semester of 2015-16 to 351 in the first semester of 2017-18.
Student involvement in the criminal justice system has decreased 36 percent during the same time frame. Municipal citations for students also decreased from 219 citations in the first semester of 2015-16 to 100 citations in the first semester of 2017-18.
“A real positive is the number of citations going down,” said School Board member Matthew Hanser.
This helps to keep kids in school without falling behind due to suspensions or court dates, he said.
In the old way of policing, Macemon said, if a teacher called for an officer to deal with a disruptive student, the situation typically escalated from that point. This often resulted in charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
“We have since learned that that’s not necessarily the best way to do it,” Macemon said.
He added that this philosophy often caused animosity, unnecessary injuries and unnecessary arrests. Now, Racine Police are trained to de-escalate whenever possible, although they still use force when needed.
“So far they’ve been very successful in most cases of de-escalating the situation peacefully, without having to use force,” Macemon said. “I think that’s a huge thing that we want to make sure that we keep working on.”
Howell stressed that police still make arrests and do traditional law enforcement work.
“This is not soft on crime; it’s just smarter on crime,” he said.
A big part of the COP model includes officers providing counseling and mentoring.
In the first 18 months of the program, COP officers provided 550 occasions of counseling or mentoring, with 70 percent of those being proactive engagements outside of any behavior-related incidents.
In one example of a positive outcome, a young woman who experienced some struggles last year formed a unique relationship with one of the COP officers. This year, because of that relationship, she helped to prevent a major event at one of the schools. When Howell found out about this, he gifted the student a new iPad.
This is one of the ways that Unified is striving to improve its school environment, said Unified Deputy Superintendent Eric Gallien.
Howell reminded the School Board that the partnership is a two-year pilot program, and that his department will soon be asking the School Board and City Council to endorse it for another two years.
“We’re trying to avoid this whole pipeline-to-prison phenomenon,” he said. “We just need the community’s engagement and their support in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
School Board member Brian O’Connell said it didn’t surprise him that the COP model was working in the schools, after observing its positive results in the community.
“I’m impressed that this is very innovative,” he said. “I don’t think this model has been used in schools.”
“We’re trying to avoid this whole pipeline-to-prison phenomenon.” Art Howell, Racine Police chief