Police Liaison for Schools.
By 1987, a major influx of crack cocaine had forced the nation into a war against drugs. In fact, by 1990, drugs had successfully infiltrated many previously drag-free areas. The nation's schools, for example, have been plagued with drugs for the past several years. Local news agencies regularly report on drag-related acts of violence committed by youths in the community. Headlines such as "5th Grader Arrested on Cocaine Charges," "8th Grader Held in Knife Attack," and "Three Students Accused in School Gun Incident" have become common in nearly all communities - so common, in fact, that they rarely draw much attention. Some residents simply accept the stories as additional examples of a generation on the decline, and government reports that corroborate the connection echo their sentiments and predict a discouraging future for today's youth.(1)
Hoping to change this dim forecast and because children spend a majority of their day in school, educators have joined the fight against drugs and violence. Unfortunately, they may not have the experience necessary to accomplish this task without the help of others. Realizing this, school administrators in Lower Camden County, New Jersey, have taken a proactive approach and joined forces with local law enforcement to combat their district's drug and violence problems.
The Lower Camden County Experience
The Lower Camden County Regional High School District (LCCD) employs approximately 700 employees and has 5,100 students in the 7th through 12th grades who live in 7 municipalities in Camden County, New Jersey. This school district consists of two junior high schools, two senior high schools, and a special-needs school.
Like many areas throughout the United States, Camden County experienced an increase in violent activity during the mid-1980s that has continued into the 1990s. As violence has increased in the community, it also has increased in the schools, including those in the LCCD. Incidents of drug use, fights, and assaults have increased, forcing school officials to spend more time addressing public safety issues than educating.
In 1993, the school district hired a security consulting firm for an on-site study of its five schools. After the firm reported its findings and recommendations, the district formed a committee - which included parents, law enforcement officials, and other members of the community - to further examine the findings.
The consulting firm recommended creating a security department and assigning a police officer to each of the high schools. In 1994, the committee endorsed this idea and implemented a pilot program at one junior high school and one senior high school. The LCCD hired sworn police officers from local municipalities and reimbursed the police department for the officers' salaries and associated expenses.
The students and staff of both schools welcomed the officers, and after 4 months, the district expanded the pilot program by creating a Department of Security staffed with five commissioned police officers, including a director. The officers have full police powers, including authorization to carry firearms. The LCCD leases three of the officers from municipal police departments for the 10 months that school is in session and employs the other two officers.
The officers serve as the primary enforcement agents. When criminal activity takes place on school grounds, the police officers coordinate the response and follow-up investigation. Usually, officers arrive while the incident is in progress, which allows them to identify the perpetrator and take immediate action. Because officers are considered members of the school community, staff members and students cooperate with them when they conduct investigations.
The police officers perform a wide range of duties as community policing representatives. They remain proactive in crime prevention and drug education programs, and they serve as police liaison officers for the schools. In this way, they bridge the gap that often exists between schools and local law enforcement.
In addition, all four high schools in the LCCD have implemented a peer mediation program to address disputes among students. Individuals are referred to this program by either faculty, staff, police officers, or other students. The police officers and other school staff members coordinate this program, but student volunteers carry out the actual administration. These programs have successfully redirected many students' violent tendencies.
The district recently took advantage of federal funds by sending the two officers assigned to the junior high schools for training to earn certification as Gang Resistance Education and Training instructors. This crime prevention curriculum places a police officer in the classroom 1 day a week for 9 weeks to teach and interact with students about issues of violence and conflict resolution.
Although it is too soon to report statistical findings in most areas, LCCD has experienced many positive developments. The police department in the municipality that sends the greatest number of students to LCCD schools has reported a 10 percent reduction in juvenile crime since the program's inception. LCCD school principals have reported fewer incidents of fighting among students, and drug-related problems occurring in these schools also have dropped significantly.
Parents ultimately supported the program because it reduced or eliminated their former perceptions of dangerous problems common throughout the schools. The police favor the program because they no longer dispatch officers to the schools to handle incidents, which allows them to refocus their attention to the rest on the community.
The active role the LCCD has taken in combating its drug and violence problems has paid off with impressive results. LCCD administrators have made a commitment to keep their schools safe in order for all students to reach their learning potential in an environment that leaves teachers free to help accomplish this goal.
Police administrators must realize that their departments must play a significant part in the school community, providing drug education and crime prevention training on a regular basis. This allows officers to reach out to school children in an effort to teach them crucial information on the prevention of crime and the dangers of drugs that they may not get at home. By practicing this form of community policing, departments not only will help the educational process for students but also will make the community safer for all residents.
1 See, for example, U.S. Department of Justice, Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan Report (Washington, DC, March 1996); available from http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles/jjplanfr.txt, accessed January 7, 1999.
Chief Martin J. Dunn serves as director of security for the Lower Camden County Regional High School District in Atco, New Jersey.
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|Author:||Dunn, Martin J.|
|Publication:||The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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