The Milwaukee Police Department responded to 1,310 calls for service at 34 MPS-controlled high schools in the 2021-’22 school year, an average of 7.2 calls every school day that raises anew questions about the school board’s decisions to stiff-arm police.
The Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors pulled officers out of schools in 2016 after parents and activists complained that police too often arrested and ticketed students rather than allowing the schools to discipline them.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, the School Board then voted unanimously in June 2020 to dissolve its contract for resource officers outside of school buildings as well.
Presented with the numbers, a spokesman for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said the mayor hasn’t wavered in thinking “police inside schools is a matter that MPD and for MPS need to work out together.”
“To be clear, the mayor has talked about police assisting in creating safe environments around schools,” spokesman Jeff Fleming told the Badger Institute. “And he believes that Milwaukee needs more police officers, not fewer, in order to make Milwaukee safer.”
When he was Milwaukee Common Council president, Johnson took heat from activists leading the effort to get police officers out of MPS schools after he called for increased patrols in the wake of a high-speed reckless driving incident in October 2021 at Madison High School.
“It’s only a matter of time before those sorts of actions result in somebody’s unnecessary death,” Johnson said at the time.
Asked to comment about the data provided by their own department to the Badger Institute, MPD wouldn’t answer questions but issued a statement.
“Currently, MPD does not have a contract or agreement with MPS to provide school resource officers or extra-duty services for their special events,” the statement read. “The safety at all of our schools is a high priority. MPD continues to work with MPS to find solutions to provide a safe environment for students. MPD remains committed to working with the community and system partners to build sustainable neighborhoods free of crime.”
The Badger Institute contacted MPS for comment and tried again after Jacqueline Mann, the director of its Office of Board Governance, left a message. Mann did not return that second call.
Nor did Cendi Trujillo Tena respond to an email when asked to comment on behalf of Leaders Igniting Transformation, the organization largely responsible for the drive to get police officers out of the schools. LIT was also a key player in the effort to defund the police in Milwaukee in the weeks and months following the May 2020 death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Badger Institute requested calls for service data for the past school year based on the high schools listed on the MPS website. We did not include the Milwaukee County Youth Education Center because its students are exclusively Milwaukee County Jail inmates, or Lad Lake’s Synergy because it is a residential campus.
Marshall High School officials made 140 calls for service, far and away the most frequent caller. Washington, Madison and Riverside University high schools, with 91, 90 and 89 calls, respectively, were next. Bradley Tech, Vincent, Hamilton, Pulaski and North Division each made between 80 and 71 calls, according to the MPD data.
The list of schools for which the Badger Institute requested data included all MPS traditional schools as well as charter schools under the control of the MPS school board. The schools with the largest number of calls were all traditional rather than charter schools.
High schools reported “trouble with juvenile” more than 250 times, well over once a school day, by far the most frequent call for service in the past school year. There were more than 100 reports of “battery,” most frequently at Vincent, Bradley Tech, Riverside and Pulaski, according to the data.
There were 75 reports of a “reckless vehicle,” 39 of “sexual assault,” 39 of a “subject with gun” and 15 of “shots fired,” the data showed.
Nearly three-quarters of the 1,310 calls for service were disposed of by the filing of a report, the inability to locate a complainant, an advisory to school officials or a report of “assignment completed.”
Officers made 71 arrests based on the calls and issued 95 citations, according to the data.
While most of those closest to the issue had little to say about the increased calls for service, the Milwaukee Police Association has said in the past that it supports putting MPD officers back in MPS schools.
In May, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association published its annual survey of public perception of law enforcement. And while the survey canvassed 1,000 people statewide, not just the city of Milwaukee, 63% said they thought having resource officers in schools would increase safety. Just 5% said safety would decrease, a longstanding contention of groups such as Leaders Igniting Transformation.
Responding to the survey, Milwaukee Police Association President Andrew Wagner said, “When you’re talking about kids and their safety and when lives are in danger, seconds and minutes matter, and it’s those response times that would really diminish if we could get those officers back.”
Mark Lisheron is the Badger Institute’s managing editor. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.