By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – At the request of the school board, Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith, along with Lt. Keith Gering and Officer Jon Nejedlo, were at the Monday, Jan. 20, meeting to discuss lethal force guidelines in regards to School Resource Officers (SROs).
Gering is in charge of the SRO program, while Nejedlo teaches use of force to new recruits at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College police academy.
“There was a request by the board members to discuss lethal force in schools, so we asked the professionals to join us and respond to these questions,” said Vicky Bayer, associate superintendent of PK-16 programs.
The request comes in the aftermath of recent incidents close to home in Oshkosh and Waukesha.
“What prompted me to think about this was the Oshkosh West situation with regards to the student who attacked the SRO and the SRO then shooting the student,” said Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau. “I was curious to what the protocol in place is and what depends when you are going to use a gun verses a Taser when you are in schools in Green Bay.”
Nejedlo said the answer depends on the situation.
“It’s all kind of cumulative. It really depends on what that situation is,” he said. “In the Oshkosh incident the officer says he tried to grab his Taser, but couldn’t. So since he couldn’t grab a Taser and he’s getting a barbecue fork put into his neck multiple times, he has a firearm accessible to him and uses it. It’s the same response any other person would have if your life was threatened.”
Smith said while the scenario dictates the actions taken, guidelines remain the same.
“Our use of force guidelines that we have are the same whether the officer is in a school and in a school situation or whether they are on the street or they are in someone else’s house,” he said.
Smith said use-of-force situations are reviewed every week throughout the department.
“When we review the use of force in general, the criteria we look at is are they objectively reasonable? Did it make sense what this officer did based on the totality of the circumstances?” he said. “That objectively reasonable comes from case law and that’s what guides the police department in what kind of force they are allowed to use in any given situation. We always have a reverence of life. We always try to deescalate, if that’s possible. Sometimes it’s just not possible because it escalates so quickly.”
There are currently 11 armed SROs placed in middle and high schools throughout the district.
Gering said all SROs are in their position to build relationships with students.
“I know they are all invested, they are all in when it comes to working with kids in schools,” he said. “When an incident happens so close to home, such as Oshkosh, it does get them thinking. They took it upon themselves to meet and do their own kind of debrief about that incident. So they could mentally prepare themselves.”
Trustee Kristina Shelton questioned district staff on what communication takes place with students and families in regards to the role SROs play in schools.
Bayer said she was unsure of the process, but plans to look into it and elevate it if needed.
“I think that is an important piece, so the community knows what the expectations are,” Shelton said. “I think when we have a clear expectation, from a parent perspective, of what the role is of the SRO and the police in our community with our students, we can better advocate and elevate when we have concerns. We have a better baseline for standard. That would be really helpful for us as a community.”