It was fall 2011 when three uniformed police officers knocked on the office door of Nancy Athanasiou ’90, dean of Education. The trio of officers was launching a pilot program of S.T.O.P. (Students Talking it Over with Police) and needed the assistance of an educator with adolescent experience who could make suggestions on how to improve the current curriculum.
“What they had was already impressive and I could immediately see the impact this could have on at-risk areas of the community,” explained Athanasiou. “I enlisted the help of my then-student, Sara Zavadsky, and together we tweaked the curriculum to better engage students and conducted the first officer training at the police academy.”
Geared to Milwaukee-area youth aged 12-17, the purpose of S.T.O.P. is to help local middle and high school students better understand the role of police and help ensure positive future encounters.
It starts with teacher-recommended students in the target age range who agree to participate in a seven-week-long training session. It’s there that students gain a better understanding of the role of police officers by participating in crime mapping exercises, listening to 9-1-1 calls that come into the system and learning about basic city ordinances.
“The idea for the program was based on the need to repair previous relationships and develop positive ones, moving forward,” shared William Singleton, police officer, Milwaukee Police Department. “To achieve this goal, we focus on a targeted group of youth leaders, empower them with in-depth and thorough information, and trust them to take the message to their peers.”
The pilot program launched in 2012 and involved the training of 27 police officers. The officers were responsible for providing ten S.T.O.P. training sessions to students from nine private charter schools throughout the City of Milwaukee. Ultimately, 240 kids were trained and certified as S.T.O.P. leaders.
“Upon completion of the program, students get a S.T.O.P. identification card they can carry with them,” said Singleton. “This card doubles as a photo ID. It has their contact information, emergency contact information and photo on the card. The purpose of the card is to help officers immediately identify the students as STOP graduates. With their knowledge, they know how to keep a situation from escalating and they can teach that to their siblings, fellow students and other kids in the neighborhood.”
Singleton also shares that first-year success has prompted continuous excitement both within the department and throughout the community. “A second officer training was held this summer and we’re optimistic the program will open up to other, interested schools. We’re also excited about feedback from the youth who participated in the program. They were eager for more time with the officers and had a new appreciation for the role and responsibility of a police officer.”