DistrictSchool Resource Officer Program
In December 2020, the School District of La Crosse released a School Resource Officer (SRO) Program Evaluation Report identifying recommendations to improve practices related to school discipline and law enforcement involvement with students. Those recommendations included increasing proactive social service and restorative practices, the creation of a School Discipline Committee and an SRO Advisory Committee, and reducing the number of SROs working in La Crosse schools.
An ongoing evaluation of the SRO program considered data relative to the goals of the program. Changes in the philosophy and practices of the School District of La Crosse and La Crosse Police Department led to a significant reduction in juvenile arrests and out-of-school suspensions. Data shows that since 2019 the juvenile arrest rate in La Crosse fell from 14% to 3.9% and the out-of-school suspension rate fell from 12.5% to 1.5%. Juvenile arrest rates and out-of-school suspensions in La Crosse are now average when compared to similar school districts. These efforts have made a positive impact on one of the goals of the SRO program, maintaining a safe and secure environment on school grounds while minimizing youth exposure to the criminal justice system.
Data on calls for service and SRO response rates were examined to analyze another goal of the SRO program, increasing the likelihood that responding officers to school incidents have special training and/or dispositions to support school-age youth. This school year, of the 939 school-based calls for service, SROs were available to respond 72% of the time; a non-SRO patrol officer responded 28% of the time. A call for service assessment found that SROs were called for appropriate incidents that were beyond typical juvenile behavior and involved legitimate safety or legal issues.
The School District rapidly expanded proactive social services and mental health interventions over the last two years. However, the pandemic impacted the ability of these programs to meet the increased needs of students. Additionally, social service programs and mental health interventions are most effective over time and have yet to fully realize their impact on students. It is anticipated that the needs of students will remain high over the next year due to the impacts of the pandemic.
As proactive social services and restorative practices are built up, to ensure the availability of a specially trained officer to respond to legitimate legal and safety issues involving students, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Aaron Engel has decided that the number of SROs contracted through the MOU with the La Crosse Police Department will remain at three for the 2022-23 school year. The School District will continue to monitor and evaluate the SRO program.