Challenging times require steady leadership and thoughtful responses to extraordinary situations.
Months of stress in restricted circumstances have made such situations more frequent, demanding much needed systemic changes. Leaders seeking quick solutions for problems created over lifetimes often fan the flames of discontent, however unintentionally. Frequently, they use the wrong tools — wielding carving knives in situations requiring scalpels, or vice versa.
They recommend sweeping reforms in short timeframes, when incremental progress over the longer term can yield better and longer-lasting results. They often address symptoms without regard to underlying issues, leaving real solutions for others to solve years, even generations, later.
We have important problems in our community which absolutely need serious solutions. But the recent call for removing police from our public schools is a flawed reaction and will likely be a serious mistake.
Removing the police in our schools uproots the progress that has been made. There has been a disruption of school-to-prison pipeline: over the past four years, the calls for police services were reduced by 25%. Arrests and citations in schools has been reduced by 43%.
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In addition, a survey of RUSD staff in 2018 conducted by the police department showed that 91% of the staff are comfortable with law enforcement in the school, 81% stated that police officers work to build positive relationships with students and 76% said they make a positive impact in the school environment.
Students, too, responded positively: 55% felt safer with officers in the building, 60% believe officers treat them with respect, which leads to building positive outcomes. While there is always room for improvement, the Student Resource Officer and Community Oriented Policing programs are achieving what is intended.
In addition, calling for an end to the program sends an implied message that all cops, by nature of their jobs, are the same, and judged by the actions of a few bad actors. Hard-working, good-hearted officers fill the rosters of almost every police department and it is true in Racine. Those officers don’t make the news enough.
They have a tough job and have to make split-second decisions in some very tough circumstances. The officers in our schools have special training and certification that help them address mental health, and they work side-by-side with social workers and administrators to help resolve mental health crises.
To call for the removal of police officers from schools will not solve the problem of school safety, and may, in fact, make it worse. Until other issues begin to be addressed seriously — issues such as poverty, joblessness and underemployment, and mental health — the issue of violence in schools will continue to be problematic.
The relationship between RAMAC and RUSD reaches back to at least the 1980s. Lately, the relationship is strengthened as we support the Academies of Racine and are active in promoting the Youth Apprenticeship Program. Periodically, I take business people into schools for meetings. While there, it’s critical they see learning happening in an atmosphere free of violence, free from fear and abundant in the calm pursuit of knowledge. The officers in the schools are partners in providing this and RAMAC, as the voice of business, supports them.
As we progress through changing times, it is incumbent on leaders of a civil society to address our shared problems deliberately and with discernment. Working through issues within the Racine Police Department should be a priority. Calling for the end of successful programs and pulling officers out of the schools to be able to say “something was done” shows neither deliberation nor discernment and solves nothing. Doing so would be a mistake.
Matt J. Montemurro is the President and CEO of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce.