Get Cops Back in Schools

Removing police from Madison’s public high schools never made any sense. It was destined for disaster. Today’s news brings evidence that the disaster is upon us.

On Wednesday afternoon about 100 people brought an altercation that began inside East High School onto a street that borders the school. Ten Madison cops and a supervisor had to respond to quell the situation. To make matters worse, members of the crowd fled the scene after refusing to cooperate with the police. That suggests gang connections or other criminal activity that the perpetrators didn’t want revealed.

Would it have come to this if the Educational Resource Officer (the bureaucratic title for a cop imbedded in a school) was still there? Of course, there’s no way to be sure, but it’s a fair bet that that officer would have defused the situation long before it became a near riot.

ERO’s had been in Madison’s high schools for almost three decades and their service had been exemplary. There were no problematic incidents involving them. In fact, most were women or people of color and they served as positive role models.

Most importantly, because they were in the schools every day, they got to know the players. They knew the kids at risk for getting into trouble, they knew the staff and the layout of the building. It’s hard to measure their exact impact because you can’t quantify incidents that don’t happen, but they were highly regarded by both students and staff.

So why were they removed? Because a handful of loud activists spun theoretical narratives around the history of policing and race and touted “the school to jail pipeline.”

Of course it’s true that the national history of policing has included racist elements. But that has nothing to do with the empathetic, well-trained officers from the progressive Madison Police Department.

And, as for that pipeline, arrests in school are likely to increase now that the ERO’s are gone. That’s because incidents like this one will continue to happen instead of being headed off. And when they do happen the responding officers will have no choice but to make arrests.

Shoving reason aside, the Madison School Board and the City Council simply caved to pressure from unhinged activists, ending the contract between the district and the city to provide the officers. The most egregious caving was from then School Board President Gloria Reyes. A former Madison cop, Reyes had resisted this ill-considered move. But then her front law was covered in defaced American flags from the activists demanding the removal of the ERO’s.

Instead of doubling down on her position in response to that kind of bullying, Reyes reversed her position and the rest is increasingly dangerous history.

The East High mess isn’t the only example of trouble. Neighborhood listservs are bubbling with reports of other fights in other schools.

Up until now I did not hold out much hope that two of the most out-of-touch School Board members — Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli — could be defeated when they’re up for reelection next spring. Now, I hope that they’ll come to their senses, replace the ERO’s and steam to victory.

But I don’t think those hopes are well founded because Muldrow and Mirilli are just too steeped in ivory tower race theory to see the real threat that their policies are imposing on students. If that’s the case let’s hope that they get tough challenges from sensible candidates next year.

Welcome to the 247th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

10 thoughts on “Get Cops Back in Schools

  1. Might you be one of those school board challengers, Dave? I tried to find a sensible candidate three years ago against Muldrow and Mirilli but came up empty. So I ran, instead. Everything I said then has come true. The East High sexual assault walk-out did not come out of the blue, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have worked in an urban high school that had SROs (ERO, or whatever you call them in Madison). I’m not for or against their presence. They can’t be everywhere at once, so things still happen. And kids who are ready to do “bad things” aren’t concerned if there’s a cop in the building or not, I know that from experience. They didn’t make a difference to me, but I’m fine with them being there if that’s what the majority wants.

    And schools do have security personnel who serve essentially the same role and who are in many ways better situated to develop effective mentoring relationships. The ones I knew had more similar backgrounds to the students and related to them on a more mutually respectful level than the police who were in the school. Even better when the security are also involved in school sports coaching. And they’re way cheaper – hire 2 for the cost of 1 I’d bet, at least.

    I believe we need as many adults as possible in schools, at least schools with more at-risk youth. Where I was there was no way for the adults to develop positive relationships with all the kids because there were too many kids vs adults, and just the curriculum delivery alone took up such a huge % of available bandwidth. What I wouldn’t have given to have another adult around, I don’t care if it was a cop or what, just more adults to guide the kids!

    But we’re not going to arrest our way out of these problems. The answer to every problem can’t be more cops, cities are already in a pension crisis and you’re calling for more of the most expensive employees who retire the earliest. Cops can’t be the universal solution, that’s not fair to them either, they’ve had mission creep for decades and we expect them to be too many roles at the same time – guidance counselor, mental health expert, terrorism expert, sharpshooter, detective, family counselor, neighborhood problem solver, report writer, statistician… I could go on.


  3. One more kick at the can. Need for school resource police officers would not be as great if teachers and principals were authorized to keep order. They are not. Must navigate a maze of regulations before they can bounce a kid from class. At which point they will be race-shamed if it’s the wrong kid. Just ask the positive behavior coach at Whitehorse middle school. I should say, the former positive behavior coach. School board couldn’t keep order at its own meetings. My wife refused to attend after her one hair-raising experience. Thanks to the Covid scare, school board found a solution: public can only view remotely, on-line.

    I knew the odds were long against winning school board in 2019, but someone had to speak out. That need remains. Madison is looking for a few brave souls willing to stick their heads out of the fox hole.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s possible that parental — and broader community — concern about student safety could fuel a backlash against current policies. But I don’t know. There remains a lot of fear out there about speaking up on this stuff.


      1. “There remains a lot of fear out there about speaking up on this stuff.”

        People are fearful of speaking up about the safety of students, and by extension, staff and faculty? Please elaborate.

        There didn’t appear to be much fear displayed by the participants of the student walkouts.


      2. “It’s possible that parental — and broader community — concern about student safety could fuel a backlash against current policies.”

        More people like you saying things like “two of the most out-of-touch School Board members — Ali Muldrow and Ananda Mirilli — could be defeated when they’re up for reelection next spring” surely won’t hurt!


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