PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The Platteville School District’s community resource officer is excited for his second year on the job and is hopeful that face-to-face instruction will bring greater opportunities for student engagement.

Although residents have expressed misgivings over the employment of an armed police officer in school buildings, Officer Joshua Stowe said he has not received negative feedback.

“The first year was really good, even with it being a rough school year in general with all the COVID precautions,” he said.

In August 2020, Stowe joined the district’s student support services team, which includes a psychologist, social worker and guidance counselors. His responsibilities include crisis mitigation, safety education, mentorship and collaboration with the district’s services team to develop intervention, skills-development and healthy-lifestyle programs. Stowe is not involved in classroom discipline, which is handled by staff.

“He has the opportunity to meet the kids and develop some familiarity or some kind of rapport with them in a setting which isn’t confrontational,” said Platteville Police Chief Doug McKinley. “This has already been helpful in defusing some volatile situations.”

During Stowe’s first year, he responded to at least 320 events, including 28 incidents of disorderly conduct, which include student fights and threats; eight incidents of missing children; 171 incidents of truancy; 10 incidents of tobacco, drug or alcohol use; and six incidents of child abuse.

Stowe issued eight citations and made eight juvenile referrals to the Grant County Department of Social Services and one referral to the Grant County district attorney. He noted the figures are estimates and do not include calls to which he responded during patrol shifts or while in non-school settings.

Additionally, Stowe led 11 school staff trainings and attended nine community functions. He also updated the district’s emergency procedures plan and distributed medial trauma kits to classrooms.

Lt. Andrea Droessler, Stowe’s supervisor, said his placement in the community and school system offers him a broader snapshot of students’ lives, which can assist teachers as they work with at-risk students.

When the district considered the creation of the CRO position, several community members feared that the presence of a visibly armed police officer would intimidate students, particularly children of color.

Nationally, Black students are disciplined and arrested in school at rates disproportionate to their numbers, while the opposite holds true for White students. A U.S. Department of Justice memo noted that increased use of disciplinary sanctions, including expulsions and referrals to law enforcement agencies, “creates the potential for significant, negative educational and long-term outcomes,” including future involvement in the juvenile justice system.

The majority of pupils probably do not view a CRO negatively, said School Board Member Vikki Peterson, but she worries how minority students feel.

“I want to be sure that some of the negative statistics surrounding CROs in schools in other parts of the state is something that is not happening in Platteville,” she said. “There are so many different types of students that might not perceive a police officer in their school as a safety feature.”

Superintendent Jim Boebel said the district has not surveyed families or students to assess their feelings about the CRO specifically.

However, the district contracted with an agency that is performing an “equity audit” this month, which includes community meetings where such feedback can be provided.

Stowe has attended training concerning adolescent development and behavior, special-needs students, trauma and diversity. He said he arranged to meet with parents before the start of his first semester, but none took him up on the offer.

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