The La Crosse Police Department has been recognized nationwide as a leader in community policing. That's why police officers from across the Midwest and East Coast are in La Crosse this week to learn how to keep kids out of gangs.
The training is called G.R.E.A.T., and stands for Gang Resistance Education And Training. Some of the officers in this 10-day prevention program come from large cities, some from small cities. All with the common goal of keeping kids out of gangs.
Terrence Forte is a police and school resource officer in Cincinnati, Ohio, but he's come all the way to La Crosse to take part in this G.R.E.A.T. training for the first time.
"What we want to do with our students all over the country and especially in Cincinnati, is you know get them at a pretty young age and talk about some of these challenges that they're going to be met with and give them the equipment and the opportunity to really say, 'No,' and keep themselves out of trouble," Forte said.
He said his department wants to receive this training to not only help him be a better instructor, but to become a better listener as well.
"Learning from the kids you know some of the challenges that they deal with we can give them ideas on how to deal with them in a more positive way," Forte said.
Police and school resource officer Wes Tjaden is from Grand Island, Nebraska. He said his department has been running the G.R.E.A.T. program for about 10 years now and they continue to see improvement.
"We've noticed a big change in a lot of these kids that have grown up, generations of gangs. They're starting to realize that that isn't something that they have to do, that they don't have to follow with their grandfathers and their fathers," Tjaden said.
"We're teaching the police officers, most of them are school resource officers that are working in the schools, this will allow them to actually go into classrooms and teach students skills to reduce those pressures," Kurt Weaver, La Crosse police officer and instructor for the G.R.E.A.T. program, said.
Weaver said one of the biggest benefits of this training is learning from the other officers.
"The trainers are from all over, the officers are from all over and it's just a lot of learning going on and a lot of networking and a lot of good ideas being passed to help combat this problem that we're seeing in our communities," Weaver said.
La Crosse is one of only four G.R.E.A.T. regional training sites in the country and has been since 1998. There are 26 officers from 13 states were represented.
These officers will be in town training until July 2.
They will take part in classroom sessions before putting their skills to the test by effectively presenting the information they learn over these 10 days.