Janesville police are meeting with school officials to take a “deep dive” into how they can connect children with services without involving the juvenile justice system, Chief Dave Moore said Thursday.
A Gazette analysis of school and police data published June 26 showed that Black kids in Janesville public schools face steep racial disparities in enforcement. They have been cited, arrested and referred to juvenile authorities at a rate that is more than seven times higher than the rates for other races.
At the July meeting of Rock County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, members were tasked with moving beyond the data and coming up with goals for their individual agencies to reduce racial disparities.
Law enforcement leaders, lawyers and human services officials returned to their next meeting held virtually Thursday afternoon and shared their goals, which include body cameras and recruitment.
But the juvenile justice system was an area of focus for some of the speakers.
Black students made up 6.2% of the student population within Janesville public schools, but Black kids were one-third of all citations, arrests and referrals from the previous two school years, The Gazette analysis showed.
“My sense is that to get some of the services, we use a referral to get there,” Moore said Thursday. “I’ve asked them to take a hard look at how we can get these services without a referral to juvenile justice.”
Faun Moses, who heads the local state public defender’s office, said two of her office’s attorneys who handle juvenile cases meet quarterly with other stakeholders. There have been discussions about the formation of a task force or committee to examine racial disparities.
She also said her office is working on sharing information, such as “know your rights” materials, in schools. But those actions are in the early stages.
Moses also said her office would be willing to share the implicit bias training her office has with other agencies.
Ryan Trautsch, of the Rock County Human Services Department, said his staff has quarterly conversations about cultural competency, how their decisions affect racial disparities and other matters on this topic.
For example, he said they are examining if lower-risk people can have shorter periods of supervision instead of the more traditional periods such as six, nine or 12 months.
Juvenile matters did not come up when Sheriff Troy Knudson spoke Thursday.
Instead, he said his office will find out in October if they will get a grant that would cover half the costs of acquiring body cameras. If they are successful in getting the grant, he said “it sounds like things are already in place to push that forward through the county board.”
They might also need to try and get the body cameras if they do not get the grant, he added.
He also said in the past the sheriff’s office has had “very rigid, routine” ways to find new recruits. He said they will take a look at their advertising practices.
District Attorney David O’Leary said in the next year his office will have about five new attorneys, and he said training on matters of race would be a “high priority” for those new prosecutors and current ones, too.
He also wants prosecutors to participate in community listening sessions, but COVID-19 has “kind of shot that down.” But it could come together in the future.
Marc Perry, executive director of Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties, said he was encouraged by what he heard Thursday because the underlying understanding was that everyone acknowledged the data on disparities is real.
“I feel like maybe we’ve turned a corner,” he said.
Steve Howland, another council member, said he hoped everyone will work to implement their goals instead of just providing “lip service.”
Perry wanted to keep getting regular updates at later council meetings.
“You can count on it,” said Kelly Mattingly, a defense attorney who chairs the council.
The council next meets at 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.