Police officers are coming back to Milwaukee Public Schools

State shared revenue deal included requirement that cops return to MPS

A row of school lockers.
School lockers in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In Milwaukee Public Schools, the return after the holiday break also means police officers could be on campus for the first time in seven years.

The district began removing police officers in 2016 and ended its last contract with the Milwaukee Police Department in June 2020.

But the sweeping shared revenue bill passed in June included the requirement that Milwaukee’s schools bring back at least 25 school resource officers. Milwaukee is the only school district required to have them and the district is responsible for funding the officers.

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The requirement was one of a handful of trade-offs Milwaukee leaders agreed to during negotiations with the GOP-led Legislature.

Opinions vary on the presence of armed officers in schools.

Two years ago, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association surveyed 1,119 adults and found two-thirds believed police officers increase safety in schools.

But a 2018 report from Leaders Igniting Transformation, or LIT, and the Center for Popular Democracy found police presence in Milwaukee schools disproportionately impacted Black and Brown students and students with disabilities.

The report found Black students make up about half of the district’s population, but 84 percent of police referrals were for Black students.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Cendi Tena, executive director of organizing at Leaders Igniting Transformation. “What this truly is, is another strategy to continue destroying public education.”

Milwaukee Public Schools stopped putting officers in schools in 2016 in response to complaints about police unnecessarily citing and arresting students for incidents that could have been handled as disciplinary matters by the district.

The district ended its last contract with MPD in 2020. At the time, the department was patrolling outdoor school events. Many districts nationwide were severing ties with school districts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in police custody in Minneapolis.

MPS spokesperson Nicole Armendariz said with police now returning to their buildings, the district is working with student groups, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), the Administrators and Supervisors Council, district staff, community members and the Milwaukee Police Department to develop a plan that would “redefine” the previous role of school resource officers.

Armendariz said MPS leaders visited public schools in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Fulton County, Ga., and Bibb County, Ga, to observe school resource officer programs that use a variety of practices focused on improving relationships between schools, law enforcement and students.

That plan for SROs will be presented at an upcoming Milwaukee Board of School Directors meeting, Armendariz said. She did not give a date when the meeting would be held, or further details.

Tena said she doesn’t believe any changes MPS makes to the SRO program will help.

“MPS has certain control, but at the end of the day, SROs report to the police department, they have their own union,” Tena said. “SROs were not designed to keep schools safe. And data has shown us that for multiple decades. We’re certainly concerned the same students – Black, Brown, queer, and students with disabilities are going to be the main targets with the presence of school resource officers.”

The Milwaukee Police Department declined multiple requests for comment.

MTEA President Amy Mizialko said the school district should not have to pay for the unfunded mandate.

“MTEA will continue to fight for safe, well-funded public schools that surround our students with support and care rather than the wrongheaded impulse to force armed cops into our schools to police students whose needs they are not familiar with,” Mizialko said.