April 20, 2021
Brillion/Reedsville cop heads state juvenile officers group
By Ed Byrne
The Brillion News
Part Two of a Series
When the Subcommittee on Law Enforcement Policies and Standards, a branch of the Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities, met on March 25, it talked about tightening up state regulations on police officers working in the schools.
The positions had once been called “police-school liaison officers,” but most are now referred to as “school resource officers” or SROs.
The job is the same: the police officers are assigned to work in schools.
In some communities, they have come under criticism for turning school discipline situations into juvenile court or criminal court cases, with critics saying that putting cops in school buildings has created a “school to prison” pipeline that is counterproductive.
When the subcommittee discussed the SRO movement, it noted that both the state Department of Justice and the state Department of Public Instruction have offices dealing with police officers in schools, but neither state agency knows how many SRO positions there are in the state, and there is no master list of SROs.
The subcommittee had no input from an organization that includes many of the school resource officers in the state – the Wisconsin Juvenile Officers’ Association (WJOA). It is a professional group, with voluntary membership, that includes officers who work in schools as well as they who don’t, but handle cases involving juvenile delinquency and juvenile welfare.
The WJOA wasn’t notified about the subcommittee’s March 25 meeting, whose agenda included SROs as well as racial profiling by police and the use of “no knock” warrants.
Brillion/Reedsville Police officer Ben Bastian, who serves part-time as the SRO for Reedsville Public Schools, is president of the WJOA.
“Intake workers, social workers, school administrators and SROs is the main mix of the group,” Bastian said.
The subcommittee was especially concerned about requiring specific training and certification for officers who are assigned to work as school resource officers. The “school-toprison” pipeline was one issue. Another was the practice, in some law enforcement agencies, to assign people to SRO positions who were not effective in other police roles – essentially using school assignments as a dumping ground.
Bastian said that hasn’t been the case in most departments.
“[The subcommittee] did not reach out to our organization,” Bastian said. “We are affiliated with NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers.”
In fact, the WJOA and NASRO are working on joint sponsorship of a mental health course for school resource officers this summer at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton.
The regional representative for NASRO, Glendale, Wis., Police officer Kelly DeJonge, is a WJOA member.
Since the March 25 meeting, Bastian has made contact with the subcommittee co-chairman, State Representative Jim Steineke, R. Kaukauna, the assembly Majority Leader.
“From our perspective, we would like to have some input or guidance from our experiences,” Bastian said.
He said most SROs go through a lot of specialized training already, though there is no training required to work in schools as a sworn officer.
He said the training covers a broad spectrum: “dealing with the kids, human trafficking, the mental health of kids, because obviously our goal is not to be that school-to-prison pipeline that we get criticized for,” Bastian said. “I hate that the term [school-to-prison] is even out there because my focus is to make sure these kids are successful and on a good path, and when they get in a jam, we have ways to ‘right the ship’ so to speak.”
Bastian said not all SRO positions are filled correctly. He said some agencies fill an SRO position based on seniority.
“That’s not the way to go,” Bastian said.
He said the WJOA recommends that the assignment of an officer to an SRO position be made as a joint decision involving the law enforcement agency and the school.
Later this year, the WJOA and the Wisconsin Association of School Administrators are offering a joint conference.
“We both see the importance of working with our principals to be on the same page,” he said. “Otherwise you’re going to set yourself up for failure if you’re not working together to come to some sort of common grounds on issues.”
Bastian said the WJOA is building email lists to link SROs in the Fox Valley and Lakeshore, and that’s a start.
Bastian said NASRO offers a basic SRO course.
“I think having a basic SRO course through NASRO is important,” he said. “I think that’s a great starting point.”
Bastian also advocates doing some on-the-job field training for officers who are new SROs.
“I didn’t have that when I went in,” Bastian said. “You were just kind of thrown in there and told ‘Here you go.’ I think some kind of training would be good.”
He said the state Department of Justice is funding the basic SRO class. That’s a good thing because, for smaller police and sheriff’s departments, the cost of the training is a barrier.
“That would be an important, key part,” Bastian said.
Locally, Reedsville has Bastian as its part-time SRO. Calumet County Deputy Sheriff Leslie LeMieux works full-time as an SRO, splitting her time between Hilbert and Stockbridge public schools. The Wrightstown Community School District contracts with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department for a full-time SRO, Deputy Jessica Smith. The Brillion schools had a part-time SRO position, which Bastian filled, until recently.
This story was first featured in the April 15, 2021 print edition of The Brillion News. Available in the April 22 newspaper -
Part 3 of this series: What works and doesn’t work with SRO programs.