The Capital Times, Madison, June 11

It is time to stop stationing police officers in Madison schools

The national debate about how to reimagine policing has so many points of entry — so many necessary issues to be addressed — that it is perhaps understandable that some people feel overwhelmed. But that is no excuse for inaction. In communities across this country, activist groups were framing issues and making demands long before the horrific death in Minneapolis police custody of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, inspired urgent protests against police brutality and racial injustice. That’s certainly true in Madison, where community members have for years challenged the practice of stationing police officers in the city’s four main high schools.

There are plenty of debates to be had in Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin and the whole of the United States about actions that must be taken at this critical juncture. But this debate about police in schools has been had, after many years of ardent advocacy by the social justice group Freedom Inc., and as a growing number of school board members have embraced the idea. Now, it is time to act.

The Madison school board should vote to begin the process of removing school resource officers (SROs) from the high schools, to develop better models for protecting students and staff, and to invest in the education and services that can provide a true sense of safety and equity.

The board should vote to remove the SROs for two reasons.

First, this shift in approach is appropriate and necessary. The arguments for it are strong. The arguments against are weak.

Second, the change can be a starting point for a host of changes that need to be made to create new models for public safety and public service in Madison and Dane County.

The necessity and appropriateness of the change was summed up by Madison Teachers Inc., the union that represents teachers and staff in the schools. MTI had historically supported keeping the SROs in the high schools, but MTI president Andy Waity now says, “We see the systematic racism that exists in our current structures and join the voices of our students and our community in calling for dramatic change in how we educate and interact with all of our students, especially those most marginalized in our schools and society.”

A statement from the union acknowledged that MTI’s past support the SROs was based on a desire “to create safe places for our students and staff” and on a understanding that “School Resource Officers build strong relationships with students, provide a sense of safety and security for all people, and often take on more of the role of a social worker or counselor than that of a law enforcement officer.” This newspaper once shared the view that this was a sufficient argument for keeping the SROs in the schools, but we have come to the conclusion that we were wrong.

We don’t disregard the sincere efforts of a number of the SROs. But it is increasingly clear that School Board president Gloria Reyes — a former Madison police officer who recently announced her support for removing the SROs from the schools — is right when she says, “The complexities of these times have lasting and painful memories for our students and staff, and we must press harder to dismantle systems that perpetuate racism and create new structures, void of harmful inequities, and with the well-being of every student at the center.”

It is also clear that many of the arguments that are being made for keeping the SROs fall short.

We question the logic of a police presence in the schools for a host of practical reasons. If the point is to keep students safe from mass shootings and other forms of violence, then why are the SROs only in the high schools, when most MMSD students are in elementary and middle schools? And if, as has been suggested, the officers “often take on more of the role of a social worker or counselor than that of a law enforcement officer,” then why not use the resources that go to fund SROs to hire social workers and counselors?

The answer, to our view, is that the schools should do just that. Ending the police presence in the schools will be a process, and school board members and administrators should begin it by establishing clear protocols and standards for keeping students and staff safe. All schools should, as MTI suggests, “be properly staffed with counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and mental health specialists according to the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recommended levels.” Teachers and students should get more training in conflict resolution, as well as restorative justice.

“What’s needed,” says school board member Savion Castro, “is a commitment to a different model of education. That’s the end goal. Instead of relying on the police, we rely on the public health and mental health support staff. That’s a new way of thinking about education.”

Which brings us that second point about the prospect that change in the schools can be a starting point for change in the community as a whole. Public schools, at their best, are the places where new ideas and new approaches are embraced. If the school board comes up with a smart plan for this different model for education, and if we all help to find the resources to implement it, it can provide a vital template for changes that the city and the county should be making to promote community control of policing and a new vision for public safety that is grounded in principles of racial and social justice.


Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, June 14

UW search needs more transparency

This is no way to pick a University of Wisconsin System president:

The search committee didn’t include a member of the faculty or staff, needlessly creating distrust. Details on the number and types of applicants, as well as the identities of top contenders, were hidden from the public. Then the sole finalist for the job backed out just as he was about to be hired.

Now UW System faces months of uncertainty as the search is rebooted — and as the System’s 13 universities across 26 campuses face dire financial and health challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Our state universities and their students deserve better. This time, the UW Board of Regents needs to get it right. It must be transparent and inclusive about what it is doing and who it might hire. That’s a much better way to build public confidence in its decisions and the direction of higher education in our state.

University of Alaska System President Jim Johnsen withdrew his name from consideration Friday just hours before the search committee planned to recommend him to the full Board of Regents. It was an unfortunate loss of a promising candidate, despite the flawed process that led to his selection.

Johnsen’s record of thinking big about how best to structure Alaska’s universities with limited resources — while at the same time advocating for solid funding — could have been a good fit here. The next UW System president will need to foster a strong relationship with the Legislature in pursuit of greater state support.

The pandemic undoubtedly made the search more difficult. It limited travel. It distracted potential candidates. With the economy sinking, some applicants may have chosen not to risk a big move.

These are strange and challenging times.

The Madison School District similarly lost its pick for superintendent in April. Matthew Guiterrez, who leads a Texas school district, rescinded his acceptance of the local position, citing the public health crisis as his reason.

But Madison’s search produced three finalists for the public to meet and consider. UW System’s process led to just one.

UW officials say other finalists for the job of System president dropped out, and pulling a semifinalist into the top pool would have been disingenuous. That’s plausible. Yet the System’s successful pursuit of a state law in 2015 allowing it to hide the names of top job candidates shows a lack of commitment to transparency.

Some applicants for top UW jobs worry that being identified as finalists might hurt their standing with their current employers, especially if they aren’t hired here. That’s an understandable concern. But the much more compelling priority must be openness with the broader public who pays the bills, and who deserves input on big decisions involving public institutions.

And in the end, the flawed search wasn’t even fair to Johnsen. Even if he had accepted the job, he would have faced intense scrutiny from those who felt shut out of the process.

The Regents should learn from their mistakes. They should add a faculty representative to the next search committee. They should promise greater transparency throughout the hiring process. They absolutely must release a list of finalists to the public before picking the best one.


The Journal Times of Racine, June 14

'Defunding’ police is not the answer

Across the country right now, there is a movement to “defund” law enforcement.

In most areas where that is proposed, the idea is to take money away from local police departments and direct money to other services.

In Milwaukee, there is a proposal to cut $75 million out of the police department’s $297 million budget.

In Madison, where the words “Defund Police” were painted across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, organizers are asking the city to use police funding to pay for programs to help the black community with things like housing, education and mental health.

Elsewhere in the United States, there are similar proposals to change how policing is done and ultimately cut funding.

Ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin’s actions in putting his knee into George Floyd’s neck for what prosecutors say was more than eight minutes, ultimately killing him, were abhorrent and never should have happened. The same for the three ex-officers who stood by and watched Floyd die without stepping in to intervene.

Now is the time to evaluate policies and discuss implementing new training and ideas such as Community Oriented Policing, as the Racine Police Department has. It’s not the time to reduce the number of police officers.

If you are cutting, what do you want to cut? Should we cut from third shift, so that if you call at 3 a.m. to report someone breaking into your house, you are told someone will be in there in 30 minutes to an hour? That is not going to be acceptable. In an emergency, you need someone there now and every minute counts.

Or are you going to cut an investigator, making it so that only violent crimes are prioritized and crimes like theft are put on the back burner?

Police do a lot more than what is shown on TV. Behind the scenes, they are stopping human traffickers, they are arresting drug dealers so that fewer people become addicted, which can lead to other crimes or fatal drug overdoses.

They are going into homes and working directly with social workers to get children out of dangerous, abusive situations.

Just a few months ago, members of the community were sending pizza, gift cards and words of encouragement to thank officers for their service during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now it seems some have forgotten about the 99% of good officers out there.

There are bad cops in America, not just in Minneapolis, and they need to be punished; now is the time to look at policies. But it’s not the time to make severe cuts.

Over the past three months, we have been living in a surreal world — a world where schools and businesses have been closed, a world where there are no festivals or mass gatherings.

But have we forgotten all the mass shootings?

Have we forgotten about mass-casualty events, such as the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting in Las Vegas where 58 people were killed and 869 people were injured?

Have we forgotten about Feb. 26 of this year, when six people were killed in Milwaukee at the MillerCoors plant when a man open fire on co-workers?

Have we forgotten about April 27 of this year, when five people were shot dead in a home near 12th and Locust streets in Milwaukee?

In Racine, earlier this month, five people were shot at North Beach.

It’s not an option for police to respond to those calls without protecting themselves. Are the police supposed to take out a loudspeaker and ask to “talk to the shooter?” That is not going to work.

If something bad happens, people deserve to know the police will be there to clear the area and make it safe.

While more training and a review of policies is good, it’s not time to cut funding. That would only cause other problems down the road.