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Texas school shooting sheds light on debate over school resource officers

Posted at 5:45 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 18:45:34-04

MILWAUKEE — The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas has put a spotlight on school resource officers.

There has been an ongoing debate over having officers in schools and how impactful they are.

In 2020, the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) Board of Directors voted to end its contract with police, including the handful of resource officers that worked outside of the schools. MPS stopped having officers inside of the schools in 2016.

The decision happened amid calls to redirect funding and criticism people did not feel safe.

Following the Texas shooting, a spokesperson said MPS put in additional staff and security measures to last through the end of the school year.

Other communities firmly believe school resource officers are needed.

Lavontay Fenderson is a full-time school resource officer at middle schools across Racine.

"I definitely enjoy it. They give me laughter and joy," Officer Fenderson said.

Fenderson grew up in Racine. He said he cares about the students and staff and said the kids talk to him about everything.

"That’s why I took this job, to not only build relationships, but keep the school safe as well," Fenderson said.

The officer admitted it has been hard learning about the nightmare in Texas and knowing it is a reality in our country.

"I think we all as SROs think about that sometimes. Just something that you have to be ready for," Fenderson responded.

"I do believe that having an SRO on scene, if nothing else, they get the word out and communicate. They're the eyes and ears of the department," said Lt. Walter Powell, head of the Racine Police Department's School Safety and Security Division.

Since reorganizing their program to focus on building relationships and trust, Powell said they have seen citations drop up to 60% over five years.

"Our officers are there for more than law enforcement. They're there to engage to be a role model to be a big brother big sister mentor and just a resource," Powell said.

Neither the Department of Public Instruction nor the Department of Justice in Wisconsin keeps track of which schools utilize school resource officers.

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