Lightest Touch: La Crosse police program to build relationships between officers and children

La Crosse Police and County officials want to create proactive interactions between officers and children
Lightest Touch program

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Evidence shows children who end up in juvenile detention are less likely to become productive members of their communities according to children.wi.gov.  La Crosse police are trying out a program to help keep children out of the court system. Today, communities exist in a time where people demand change.

“One of the policies we are looking at currently is our youth operations policy,” La Crosse Police Lt. Avrie Schott said.

La Crosse police hear those cries for better practice in law enforcement. That starts with a goal, what Schott calls the Lightest Touch program.

The city’s Police Department brought Lightest Touch to the table last year. Officials are testing the program within the department’s school resource officer program.

“Piloting with the school resource officers with the goal to move this out to our entire staff,” Schott said.

Schott presented the department’s goal to the La Crosse County Criminal Justice Management Council Wednesday.

“Surround them with the resources that they need,” she said. “Not necessarily issue a citation, refer from formal charges.”

Justice support services manager Mandy Bisek said this is not about eliminating consequences, but redefining accountability for the good of La Crosse.

“Does our community truly define accountability only as, if a kid screws up or a kid does something that does create a safety issue even … is our only response law enforcement and juvenile detention, and getting them in front of a judge?” Bisek said.

The goal is simple: Keep kids out of the criminal justice system and find proactive community partners to help children grow. A shadow was cast on La Crosse police’s SRO program after La Crosse Schools suspended the program in March. Police Chief Shawn Kudron is trying to mend that relationship. However, the Lightest Touch program idea started before 2021.

“Chief Kudron had already had this in the works,” Schott said.

Bisek said the point of Lightest Touch extends beyond the SRO program itself.

“I think that’s about the adults who operate systems for youth, coming together and talking about how we can do better for the youth for our community,” Bisek said.

Schott is focused on getting several La Crosse youth resources involved.

“We have to do this as an entire community,” she said.

Leaders are working together to change the narrative surrounding police officers, introducing children to these people.

“Obviously work with those positive relationships and engaging kids so that they have that trusted adult that they can go to,” Schott said.

Building trust through relationships. Schott said she wants children to see men in women in blue as people there to help.

“Those positive engagements is what grows our community,” she said.

The La Crosse Police Department wants to expand the program to the entire police force.