Madison School District SRO report reveals racial disparities in school arrests

MMSD released data citing SRO citations and arrests during the 2019-2020 school year.
Published: Aug. 2, 2020 at 11:45 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -A new report from the Madison Metropolitan School District shows black high school students were arrested or cited by school resource officers disproportionately to other students in the 2019-2020 school year.

This comes one month after the MMSD school board voted to take SROs out of schools.

A Madison East High School student is focusing on the next steps.

“I’m on a committee that will talk about recovery plans and how to address school safety once SROs are taken out,” Gordon Allen, Madison East High School junior said.

He said with SROs out the picture, school safety is a big concern and he's taking part in the conversation.

"We need to invest heavily into our security systems and monitor who is going in and out our exit points," Allen said.

As unrest sweeps the nation, the 16-year-old said he agrees with the decision to remove SROs from schools.

“Personally I would feel safer just taking them out of schools and revamping our behavior support team,” Allen said. “A lot of students reported that their SROs issue citations based off their own prejudice.”

MMSD released data showing school resource officer arrests and citations during the 2019-2020 school year.

The key findings highlight SROs had 84 interactions with students. 51 students were Black or African American, 12 Hispanic/Latino, 10 multiracial and 9 White students.

Black students made up 65 percent of arrests and 82 percent of citations.

“I was disturbed, not shocked. We know this goes on,” Michele LaVigne, UW-Madison Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law Emeritus said. “I refuse to believe only African-American males are acting up.”

Lavigne said the data illustrates a component of the school to prison pipeline. She said when young people are issued a citation or they get arrested at school, it stays on their juvenile record.

“That information is in front of the prosecutor. That information is in front of the judge. It influences the decisions down the line,” she said. “When we talk about the school to prison pipeline, very often it may not be direct in the sense of ‘this contact leads directly to this incarceration.’”

In the demographics section, the data shows 59 of the 84 students who had interactions with SROs were low-income.

Lavigne said some disadvantaged teens with behavioral problems may have deeper issues that law enforcement can’t fix.

“Do these kids have enough to eat? Do these kids have a home? Is there something else going on that we need to intervene with?” she said. “If we’re spending money on law enforcement, we’re not spending money on the mechanisms that finds out and figures out how to help somebody.”

Allen said removing SROs may only fix a small piece of a bigger problem.

“If we do remove SROs from our schools, when we do need them and call them to the school, how will that go?” Allen said. “It’s going to be a different person every time and we don’t know what their bias is.”

Tim LeMonds, MMSD spokesperson, said in an email, “Whenever a student is arrested or cited, it reaffirms our need to continue to make disproportionality a priority.”

LeMonds mentioned restorative practices and intervention services put in place in the past year to divert youth of color from the justice system.

“The MMSD District Safety and Security Team is committed to fostering and promoting equitable outcomes for our school communities,” he said in an email.

MPD Spokesperson responded to the report and said in a statement, “The MPD’s School Resource Officers – three male officers, all Black, and one female officer, who is Latina – were honored to protect and serve all students of the Madison Metropolitan School District. Moreover, they enjoyed the camaraderie of working with staff members and the student body, making each school the best it could be. Each SRO cared deeply about their assigned school and will miss the students this year. "

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