Safety Climate: A look at Police Calls to Madison High Schools

Doug Erickson:

Total police calls to Madison’s four main high schools declined 38 percent from the fall semester of 2006 to last spring. But those figures tell only a partial story, and not a very meaningful one.
That’s because the numbers include all police calls, including ones for 911 disconnects, parking lot crashes and stranded baby ducks. (It happened at La Follette last May.)
The State Journal then looked at police calls in eight categories closely related to safety — aggravated batteries, batteries, weapons offenses, fights, bomb threats, disturbances, robberies and sexual assaults. Those calls are down 46 percent from fall 2006 to spring 2008.
The schools varied little last spring in the eight categories. Memorial and West each had 13 such calls, La Follette 14 and East 16.
School officials are relieved by the downward trend but careful not to read too much into the figures.
“We know there’s almost a cyclical nature to crime statistics and even to individual behavior,” said Luis Yudice, who is beginning his third year as district security coordinator.
Art Camosy, a veteran science teacher at Memorial, said he thinks the climate is improving at his school. Yet he views the police figures skeptically, in part because the numbers are “blips in time” but also because he wonders if the district’s central office is behind the drop.
“Are our building administrators being pressured not to call police as often?” he asks.
John Matthews, the longtime executive director of Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), the district’s teachers union, contends that the district’s leadership has indeed done this from time to time, directing building administrators to hold off on calling police so often.
Yudice, a former Madison police captain, said there was a time years ago when the district was extremely sensitive about appearing to have a large police presence at its schools. He rejects that notion now.
“It’s just the opposite,” he said. “We are more openly acknowledging that we have issues that need to be dealt with by the police. Since I’ve been working here, there has never been a directive to me or the school principals to minimize the involvement of police.”

All four Madison high schools feature an open campus. It appears that Erickson only reviewed calls to the High Schools, not those nearby. 1996-2006 police calls near Madison High Schools is worth a look along with the Gangs & School violence forum.
Finally, I hope that the Madison Police Department will begin publishing all police calls online, daily, so that the public can review and evaluate the information.

  • David Cohen

    “It appears that Erickson only reviewed calls to the High Schools, not those nearby.”
    That’s because he’s writing about what happens in the schools, not the surrounding neighborhoods which, in some cases, don’t reflect what happens in the schools. There’s no doubt that crime is on the rise city-wide. You can’t blame every police call in a 1 mile radius of any high school solely on the student body of that high school. I don’t expect the MMSD to be responsible for crimes unless they occur on MMSD property. I do expect the MMSD to handle any crimes on their property with swift, equitable and direct punishment of the perpetrators according to the recently updated Code of Conduct. Anything less is a cop out.

  • Jim Zellmer

    Erickson’s article included a video of a fight at the Madison Metro South Transfer Point:
    http://www.madison.com/wsj/media/southbus/southbus1/index.html
    Several interesting charts, including student climate survey results (personal and belongings):
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/pdf/2008/08/schools8302008b.jpg
    Staff Injuries due to “kicking, choking, biting, scratching, punching or grabbing” from 2002 to 2008:
    http://www.madison.com/wsj/mad/breaking_news/302596
    Selected police calls to the Madison High Schools:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/pdf/2008/08/highschoolpolicecalls808.pdf
    Finally, as to the importance of evaluating nearby (at least within a .25 mile radius, perhaps .5) police calls, I attended last fall’s West High / Regent Neighborhood crime discussion meeting:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/10/west_high_regen.php
    A number of events that occurred after the beginning of the 2007-2008 school year and before this October meeting were “near” the high school.
    1996-2006 data within .25 miles of Madison’s high schools:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2008/08/madison_police_3.php
    A teacher friend recently recommended that the school district adopt a “pragmatic” rather than “ideological” discipline policy.

  • david cohen

    I still think this data gets taken with a grain of salt. The public housing across from Memorial, for instance, is within .25 miles and generates tons of non-school related police calls. Ditto with the E. Washington corridor near East High. West seems to be more residential, so you might find more correlation there. I don’t know much about the vicinity of Lafollette.