Reinvent School Policing

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.

A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted  below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.

SC police brutality

In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.

The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:

  • Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
  • Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.

Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.

While I continue to question  the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.



School to Prison Pipeline Close to Home

Recently, the Madison school board voted to modify the contract it has with the City of Madison through which it pays for 4 full time police officers (one stationed in each high school). Unfortunately, rather than taking this vote as an opportunity for a serious conversation about the role of police in our schools, Madison’s Mayor, Paul Soglin threatened to remove the police from the high schools if an agreement is not reached within 45 days, though to date, he has been unwilling to engage in serious negotiations on the issue.

school to prison pipeline

Courtesy: Atlanta Black Star

While it is unclear how these negotiations will conclude, both the City and the school board would be wise to examine the available data on juvenile arrest rates to determine whether they are feeding the school to prison pipeline. I recently obtained a copy of a Dane County report with very useful data, Juvenile Population, Arrest, Law Enforcement Referral, and Recidivism in Dane County, 2007‐ 2015There is some good news. Despite an increase in the juvenile population in Dane County from about 45,000 in 2001, to just under 48,000 in 2014, the number of juvenile arrests have fallen from about 8,000 in 2001, to around 3,000 in 2015. While that is a dramatic decline, it is, nevertheless stunning to see the high percentage of juveniles arrested in Dane County. It should be noted, however, that the number of arrests of white juveniles was about the same as that of black juveniles in 2015, but due to the much smaller black population in Dane County, the arrest rate of black juveniles is 3.5 times higher than that of white juveniles.

However, arrests just start the juvenile justice process. The next step is a referral for prosecution. Referrals for prosecution also highlight a huge racial disparity. In 2015, 483 black juveniles were referred for prosecution compared to only 299 white juveniles. Overall, the juvenile referral rate has risen dramatically from 2007-2015 as follows:

  • Total juvenile arrest referral rate increase=37.7%
  • White juvenile arrest referral rate increase=41.1%
  • Black juvenile arrest referral rate increase=26.7%

The arrest referral disparity between white and black juveniles in 2015 is almost 2:1.

The most relevant data to the current debate about police in our schools is that the most common location for juvenile arrest is in school. In 2015, 22.3% of all juvenile justice referrals were from arrests that took place at school. The percentage of school arrests by race were split evenly among white, black and Hispanic juveniles at around 22% (no explanation is given for the other 34%). In 2015, 81 of the 188 Dane County school law enforcement referrals took place in MMSD schools, 67 of which were at MMSD high schools. It is worth noting that the single highest juvenile law enforcement referral has been the very generic disorderly conduct.

When juveniles enter the justice system they are assigned a social worker who makes a recommendation  to the district attorney regarding formal charges. It is worth noting that the DA has consistently charged juveniles at a higher rate than the social worker recommendation. In 2015, social workers recommended charged in 46% of cases, while prosecutors charged 56% of such cases. The racial disparities are stark. In 2015, prosecutors charged:

  • 62% of black juvenile arrestees;
  • 53% of Hispanic juvenile arrestees; and
  • 43% of white juvenile arrestees.

As the City of Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District negotiate the future role of police officers in our schools, examining this data, with eye towards elimination of the school to prison pipeline and elimination of racial disparities in juvenile arrests should be a critical piece of the conversation.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.




Police in Schools need Teen Training

Among the many reasons we have a school to prison pipeline is that many school districts  place police officers in schools. While best practice is to limit police involvement in schools to genuine emergencies, leaving general school behavior management to the educators in the school, many school districts believe that safety requires stationing police officers in their schools. School based police officers are often given euphemistic names like, police liaison officers or school resources officers. In Madison, they are dubbed educational resource officers (ERO), though they are not educators.

Although it did not take place in school, a recent interaction between Madison police and black youth at a large public event, demonstrated the lack of training of the police officers at the scene, as to how to de-escalate teens who were fighting. Without such training, police used pepper spray in a crowded public area causing innocent bystanders to suffer the painful effects of the pepper spray. Madison Police Chief Mike Koval conceded that,

conditions were less than ideal for using pepper spray. A brewing storm was kicking up wind that may have led to “collateral exposures.” But he defended his officers’ actions, saying that those involved in the alleged fight “could have been roundhoused to the point where they might have had fractures or lose consciousness.”

In a case in which I represented a middle school boy against the Sun Prairie police because the officer slammed my client’s head to the ground when he would not give the officer his cell phone (the boy has disabilities and was granted permission to use his phone by the school), when I took the officer’s deposition, it was clear that he had no training in dealing with teenagers, nor children with disabilities. The case settled just before the trial was scheduled to take place.

Fortunately, there are resources available to provide training to police when they interact with teens, whether in school or in public. Put simply, when policing the teen brain, there are better ways to communicate because teen brains are different.


From Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 9, 2016. Click here for larger image.

Strategies for Youth provides training for police on how to successfully interact with teens. Police have used this training successfully in Virginia Beach, although nationally, only about 1% of police training includes strategies for dealing with teens. The training program helps police and youth by:

  • Making interactions with youth easier and faster, less conflicted and more compliant;
  • Asserting authority effectively with youth with reduced reliance on force and arrest;
  • Recognizing and responding appropriately to youth presenting mental health and addiction issues;
  • Investing in youth and increasing youths’ trust and communication with police;
  • Reducing departments’ overtime and court costs by partnering with youth serving, community-based organizations for low-level offenses; and
  • Supporting good community relations and reduce complaints.

The Madison Police Department and the Madison Metropolitan School District are currently examining the role of police in Madison schools. Any agreement to continue to the placement of educational resource officers in all of Madison’s high schools should include mandatory training for these officers on successful interactions with teens in order to reduce the school to prison pipeline and keep everyone in school safe.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.