Eighth graders from St. Marcus Lutheran School begin a seven-week, trust-building seminar with the Milwaukee Police Department.
Talking to a police officer can be an unnerving experience — especially for young people. Often kids are nervous, or they don't understand why they're being stopped.
And that initial interaction can quickly become unnecessarily volatile.
That's why the Milwaukee Police Department has created an educational program called Students Talking It Over With Police, or STOP. The seven-week curriculum is aimed at "future leaders" ages 12 to 17, and it gives students insight into all aspects of policing.
"We talk to them about crime mapping so they get an idea of what we see when we're in roll call," said Officer Bill Singleton, coordinator of STOP. "Then we get into the different reasons why you can get stopped, such as city ordinances and suspect descriptions."
Seemingly minor violations, such as littering or loitering, could warrant police questioning, Singleton said. And when a crime is committed, police will stop anyone in the area matching a suspect's description.
According to Singleton, those standard operating procedures help MPD fight crime and keep innocent people safe.
"Just because you get stopped on the street by a police officer doesn't mean you did anything wrong," he said.
The STOP program isn't designed to be a lecture. Instead, it encourages dialogue between police officers and students. And since young people are often intimidated by police officers, the program offers a chance to build trusting, positive relationships.
Right now STOP exists in nine private schools, but MPD is working to expand the program to Milwaukee Public Schools next year, Singleton said.