Janesville School Board member Greg Ardrey grew up in St. Louis at the height of the crack epidemic. At his high school, they had to go through metal detectors, and police officers were always present.
The relationship between students and the police there was “more of an adversarial relationship,” he said.
In schools across Rock County that have school resource officers, the relationship is less confrontational and more collaborative, a group of resource officers from Beloit, Janesville and Milton; school administrators; and Janesville School Board members said during a Thursday panel discussion.
More than 50 people attended the program, called “Discipline Methods in Schools: How Policing Works,” hosted by the Diversity Action Team of Rock County.
At the beginning of the program, Lonnie Brigham, chairman of the Janesville Police Department’s African American Liaison Advisory Committee and a Diversity Action Team member, said the forum was not a debate on the value of officers in schools but more of an educational session.
Nationally, several high-profile incidents have cast such officers in a negative light. People needed to know about the work they do, Brigham said.
One thing was clear: The role and perception of police officers in the schools has changed over the years—but not in all quarters.
“People think that school resource officers go around arresting people,” said Jaymee Thompson, assistant principal of Beloit Memorial High School. “That’s not what they do.”
Beloit, Milton and Janesville school resource officers agreed that was not their primary role.
Milton police officer Ryan Schneider, who works as a school resource officer in the Milton School District, said his role is to educate, mentor and enforce. Creating relationships with students is a big part of what all officers try to do.
Janesville police officer Todd Bailey said he had about 780 meetings with students last year. He tries to advise and guide rather than enforce and arrest.
Still, school board members and school administrators said they would like to see additional bias training to make sure teachers and officers aren’t targeting minority students, even if it is inadvertent.
To that end, Beloit Police Department Sgt. Jamie Linder, who oversees the school resource officers in that city, said the department is developing quarterly report systems to track demographic information of students they interact with in the course of their duties.