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Police try to improve relationship with youth through the “Lightest Touch Initiative”

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Rather than formally charging and delivering citations, the La Crosse Police Department is focusing on connecting young people to community partners through the "Lightest Touch Initiative".

Lieutenant Avrie Schott said the policy was in progress before social justice protests started happening more frequently in the summer of 2020.

However, those protests helped law enforcement realize the need to work harder on the new initiative. The program is in pilot mode for school resource officers and as those positions remain uncertain, the initiative will continue in the greater community.

"The La Crosse Police Department recognizes that we need to be looking at different ways of working with youth in the community and so this program is a goal, part of our youth operations policy and no matter where we are with our school resource officers this program will continue to work with the youth in the community," Lt. Schott said.

She said potential program partners include The Boys and Girls Clubs, YWCA, YMCA and La Crosse County.

"I don't know that we've been great in our history of getting of getting our community's buy-in of support and ideas," La Crosse County justice support services manager Mandy Bisek said. "I think this is an opportunity for us to do it differently. Can we recognize them in those moments as a need of different services or connections within their community and overt them the system that we know all too often can lead to that school to prison pipeline."

Lt. Schott said the new initiative could help mitigate the school to prison pipeline problem in La Crosse.

"I'm hopeful that someday we could work youth justice right out the system need quite frankly," Bisek said. "So as the manager of support system services I'm saying I'd like to work myself out of a job and I think that's for so many of us in the system probably should be our end goal."

According to Superintendent Dr. Aaron Engel's study published in November, La Crosse juvenile arrest rates increased by 17% in 2019. The study shows that juvenile arrest rates are, when compared to enrollment, are four times higher for Black youth versus white youth.

In summary, the report said this proves that the disproportionate rate of arrests of Black juveniles contributes to the school to prison pipeline. The data is influencing the police department and county's decision to pilot the "Lightest Touch" initiative and create positive change.

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