MILWAUKEE - The I-Team spent months collecting stacks and stacks of crime reports from suburban schools in Southeast Wisconsin. Some schools had a lot police calls while some had none at all. But we found the numbers can be deceiving.
Whether it’s learning the ABC’s or studying for the ACT’s, parents expect their children to be safe in their classrooms. Safety concerns prompted Monica Bliss and her friends to pull their kids out of Kenosha Unified School District.
“One of our concerns was our district middle school. I wasn’t happy thinking I would have to send our son there,” said Bliss.
But are public schools less safe? To find out the I-Team contacted districts and police agencies across Southeast Wisconsin. We requested every incident in which police were called a school in the past three years.
We received hundreds of pages of documents. Police responded to schools for many reasons including drugs, weapons, fights, thefts and sexual assaults. Some of the schools with the greatest number of police calls included the following:
Tremper High School in Kenosha had 21 drug cases in 2011. Horlick High School in Racine reported 21 fights in 2011. Police found 9 weapons at Waukesha North High School in 2012. Indian Trails High School in Kenosha reported 20 sex assaults in 2011. Lincoln Middle School in Kenosha had 5 sex assaults reported in 2012.
“I think the sexual assault surprises me especially in a middle school setting,” explained Bliss.
Kenosha Police said of those sex assaults reported at the Indian Trails High and Lincoln Middle many of them involved inappropriate touching. Two were later determined to be unfounded claims. There was one serious case at Indian Trails which was a second degree sex assault.
But those numbers alone can be misleading, according to Peter Powchoski. He’s a retired detective who runs the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators.
“To the untrained eye it looks like it looks like our schools are in deep trouble. But the fact of the matter you have to consider a number of things,” explained Powchoski.
For example, some principals may call police every time there’s a fight or theft. But others may deal with the problem internally, by simply breaking up the fight or finding the stolen item and returning it. Sometimes, principals have an incentive to deal with problems internally.
“Too many administrators don't want to see police out in front of a school. But there are many who embrace the police,” said Powchoski.
There are 424 school districts across Wisconsin. When it comes down to reporting crime in our schools, the state does not have a standard crime reporting system. There’s no way to guarantee every district report crime the same way.
“One principal may be very good at reporting a lot of things while another may hold things close to the vest and report very little,” said Powchoski.
That means the schools that report to police everything appear to be less safe. It also means the schools that report to the police next to nothing may not be as safe as they appear. So what’s the solution?
“I think it’s standardized reporting. It would take the guess work out of these types of statistics,” expressed Powchoski.
“I think is a component we have to start considering,” said State Senator Paul Farrow.
Farrow is the vice chair of the state’s committee on education. He says the I-Team’s data proves the current system is not making the grade.
Jermont: Do you believe under the current system, is it working and do you have the right information?
Farrow: I don't think as a parent could I go to the school and find out what's happened in this school
Senator Farrow said he will attempt to introduce legislation to address a standard reporting system. Powchoski recommended parents ask questions to school leaders and find out if the district has a working relationship with police.