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Education efforts should focus on making better police officers

State Rep. Dave Murphy of Greenville is putting the burden on school children to learn how not to get shot by police offi cers. Describing the shooting that prompted protests and riots in Kenosha in the summer of 2020 as being due to a person not following the instructions of an offi cer, Murphy is calling on Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction to come up with a model curriculum on how to interact with law enforcement.

His goal is to have lessons each year, starting in fifth grade and running through 12th. Although he would leave it up to individual school districts to implement the curriculum, as he envisions the lessons, they would be an hour or two long and held in the spring and fall of each school year to teach how to interact with officers in a variety of situations.

The legislation is part of a package of bills to support Wisconsin law enforcement, particularly with officer recruitment and retention that are being proposed at the start of which promises to be a contentious election year in the state.

Creating positive interaction between members of law enforcement and young people in communities around the state is important. Young people need to know that officers, sheriff’s deputies and other members of law enforcement can be trusted and have an important job to keep the peace and protect their communities. Twice yearly classes on the need to comply with commands and to respect officers’ authority is not the way to build these bonds.

While young people should be educated by parents and teachers in showing respect to peers and adults in all situations, respect is a two-way street.

It is easy for members of law enforcement to develop tunnel vision, especially for those who work in high-crime areas or interact daily with drug abusers, hoodlums and hardened criminals. It is easy to let those interactions color how they deal with others.

Wisconsin should put more resources into training officers to employ deescalation techniques and to develop the skills needed to deal with high stress situations. This is particularly important for officers who are interacting with those with mental illness, autism spectrum or other conditions which impacts reasoning and decision making.

One only needs to look at the outstanding job done by the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department and Medford Police Department to see this in action.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost half of the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability. Law enforcement offi cers must make split-second decisions in life or death situations to protect themselves and others. It is necessary that officers be given the resources and training in dealing with people with these disabilities to work for positive outcomes rather than making gut reactions to perceived threats.

Murphy’s proposal is akin to teaching the sheep to be more obedient while allowing the sheepdogs to go feral.

There is a burden to being a member of law enforcement. It is a tough job and one that on occasion involves split second life or death decision making. Prior to going into these situations, law enforcement officers must be armed with the best education possible to achieve positive outcomes. Resources should be spent toward educating officers and building community bonds and not just demanding obedience.