Wauwatosa School Board, police department discuss SRO relationship in schools

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WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Tuesday night the Wauwatosa School Board met to discuss the district's relationship with the police department, specifically the student resource officers.

The meeting comes after a particularly active stretch in which there were several fights and acts of violence throughout the district.

Currently four Wauwatosa police officers work as full-time school resource officers. But there has not been a formal memorandum of understanding between the two organizations like in most districts.

About three dozen parents packed the special board meeting to listen to a discussion that often focused on whether students can be interviewed without their parents.

Wauwatosa Police Chief James MacGillis told the board, "We want to have a safe environment for students, want to have a safe environment for teachers to do their job."

For more than two hours the board and police department had an informal conversation about the nuanced role of uniformed officers in schools.

A draft of a new memorandum of understanding tried to differentiate between school violations and criminal justice violations.

Wauwatosa Police Sgt. James Morrill said, "We went much further. A lot deeper. What do we do if there's a serious crime in school? Like a sexual assault."

Sgt. Morrill worked for several years as an SRO at Wauwatosa East High School. He now runs the SRO program.

He said, "Sometimes we've stepped on the school district's toes, sometimes the district has stepped on our toes."

But much of the board's questions focused on what would happen if police had to interview students.

Sgt. Morrill explained how the legal obligation to interrogate a suspect could trump school policy if a crime has been committed or if safety is threatened.

Sgt. Morrill said, "There are times where something rises to the level of a crime and the school doesn't want us to talk to that child. But a criminal act has occurred. We can just exercise our authority."

Right now, the district pays the police department roughly $400,000 for the SROs. No action was required from the board Tuesday night, and there was nothing to approve or vote on.

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