The Madison Police Department plans to postpone safety classes taught in the Madison school district starting December due to budgetary restraints.
The programs that will be cut include classes on Personal Safety and Gang Resistance Education and Training, Joel DeSpain, MPD Public Information Officer, said.
COPS was designed by the MPD and the Madison Metropolitan School District for 4th and 5th graders, DeSpain said. GREAT was catered to middle school students.
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MPD officers taught for approximately 16 weeks, or one full semester, for an hour each week, according to the MPD website.
Additionally, nearly 3,000 students in the city of Madison have successfully completed the COPS program every year for the past 15 years, according to the MPD website.
Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said the programs are being cut due to a police department staffing crisis.
“I don’t think our authorized strength has kept pace with the needs of policing services in this area,” Koval said.
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While MPD and the Madison School District greatly benefit from COPS and GREAT, the police department must make sure there are enough officers to keep patrol services covered.
The budget spent on these programs was limited to the salaries of the four officers who taught the classes, DeSpain said.
Due to a tight budget, Koval said, MPD also had to eliminate other jobs within the department, such as a neighborhood officer position and Traffic Enforcement Safety Team members.
“Patrol services had to be first priority because they are the officers who respond to 911 calls that are asking for police presence,” Koval said.
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Rachel Strauch-Nelson, Media and Government Relations Director for the Madison Metropolitan School District, expressed concerns about MPD leaving their classrooms.
The Madison School District doesn’t know how the schools will compensate for this loss, Strauch-Nelson said. Once there is a final decision on the city budget, the school board will into the situation to determine the next steps forward.
“We certainly believe COPS and GREAT are valuable programs for students, and it is our hope that they are revived at some point,” Strauch-Nelson said.
The programs provided students with basic information on topics like drugs, gangs, bullying, internet safety, self-esteem and protective behaviors, according to an MPD article.
Safety Education Officers’ not only teach the COPS program, according to the article, but assist educators and other staff members as education, prevention and enforcement need occur throughout the school district.
Koval said when police officers are able to show children that they are helpful, an invaluable relationship of trust is formed.
“When people only see police officers dealing with crisis, or engaging in call-and-response mode of communication, it is a rather shallow and narrow relationship with our department,” Koval said.
Slashing programs such as COPS and GREAT provides an opportunity for the relationship between the community and MPD to backslide, Koval said. There is no depiction of what positive engagements can look like within the city.
The vast majority of the Madison community appreciates, respects and supports MPD’s efforts, Koval said. MPD does not want to become complacent and act as if there is no room improve on their work.
“The beauty of these programs is that they are more wholistically designed not exclusively from the lens of a police officer, but an educator,” Koval said. “That’s what makes the programs so vitally different and important.”
MPD hopes to reinstate COPS and GREAT after the 2018 school year comes to an end and they can further examine their budgetary concerns, Koval said.