Milwaukee dumps well-intentioned but widely panned police-in-the-classroom program

Posted July 5

Milwaukee has thought better of a program designed by the city's police department to familiarize teenagers with police practices, improve rapport with the community, and reduce the odds of violent confrontations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Critics called the program "horrible," pointing to clumsy and inflammatory skits, such as one in which a police officer threatens to shoot a student he "confronts," and then says "bang, bang, bang."

Founded in 2010, the program was known as Students Talking it Over with Police, or STOP, and it was "paused" toward the end of this school year. Officials have now announced it will not be renewed.

Robert Smith, a professor at UW-Milwaukee and a parent with children in Milwaukee schools, told the Journal Sentinel that he was especially put off by a "pledge" and membership card that police issued students in the program.

Students were asked to "pledge to follow curfew laws," "pledge to carry my STOP membership card at all times to provide to police when stopped and questioned" and "pledge never to run from the police, fight with police, or argue with the police."

Critics argued that the program sought to teach undue deference to police, including acquiescence to racial profiling.

But the program was not always a flashpoint. In 2014, the Milwaukee police chief spoke with a local television station touting STOP. As recently as 18 months ago, the program was viewed very positively in the police community and seemed to be showing good results.

Last summer, the Journal Sentinel announced that the program was set to be replicated in other cities, including St. Louis, which along with its suburb Ferguson became the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement when a police officer shot and killed an 18-year-old black male under controversial circumstances.

There even seemed to be good data supporting the program. Police Chief magazine reported in January 2015 on a study of 36 schools using the program in 2013-2014. It found found positive results from STOP, stating the program "was successful in improving youths’ general knowledge of the police, conduct knowledge, perceptions of the police, willingness to cooperate with the police, and perceptions of procedural fairness."

While the curriculum may have been clumsy, the canceling of STOP is also a reflection of deep tensions between policy and community activists since the Ferguson events.

Relations between police and activists in the Black Lives Matter movement have become so tense that BLM just last week announced it was withdrawing from the San Francisco Gay Pride parade because police assigned to protect the marchers were viewed as a threat.

“We know firsthand that increasing the police presence at Pride does not increase safety for all people,” a BLM spokesperson wrote in a press release, as reported by The Los Angeles Times. “Militarizing these events increases the potential for harm to our communities and we hope in the future SF Pride will consider community-centered approaches to security at pride events.”



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