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Reading, writing, and intervention.

TODAY'S HIGH SCHOOL AND MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHERS WALK INTO classrooms where approximately one in five students carries a concealed weapon. That has led schools in big and small cities alike to install metal detectors, X-ray machines, and even CCTV cameras. The San Antonio Independent School District, however, is taking a more personal approach to securing its schools--and getting terrific results.

Consider these statistics: Of the students typically found to be armed in schools, 55 percent use razors or knives, 24 percent use clubs, and 21 percent use guns. Hispanic males were more often found with weapons. Black males ranked second and white males third.(1) Schools have responded with force:

* The Norfolk, VA, school board became the first in the state to approve the use of metal detectors because of an incident early last year. A high school student was wounded when a gun accidently went off at the school and authorities found a sawed-off shotgun in the locker of a middle school student. (The Washington Post, November 25, 1991.)

* Last spring in Milwaukee, officials announced that they had confiscated more than 40 guns, including a .357 Magnum, a sawed-off shotgun, and a number of .38-caliber handguns, since the beginning of the school year. The school superintendent recommended that metal detectors be installed at all schools and that school officials perform random weapons searches. (The Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1992.)

* Prince Georges County, MD, officials announced that they had discovered 20 firearms in schools since July 1991. Officials plan to increase patrols of schools by police and security officers. (The Washington Post, March 24, 1992.)

Back in the mid 1980s the San Antonio, TX, school board and school administrators realized that their city would be a tempting target for the growing epidemic of violence and drug-related activity that was becoming a pervasive problem on school grounds in cities across the country.

Sam Wolf, former director of the Department of Safety for the San Antonio Independent School District, explains that the area was ripe for this type of activity: "Drug dealers in California and Florida were getting a lot of heat from law enforcement and needed to move out of those states to keep their businesses lucrative. San Antonio is close to the Gulf and close to Mexico. And the city had a high concentration of military personnel, since it's surrounded by a number of bases. The drug dealers saw it as a key terminal for funneling narcotics. It was ideal for drug-related activity."

It was not drug dealers that concerned the school board as much as it was the youth gangs that are recruited by the dealers to act as couriers. It has long been an established practice for dealers to recruit youths and work through youth gangs, because if juveniles are caught handling drugs, they are not as easily prosecuted as adults. And kids work cheap.

Wolf, who retired in June after 38 years with the school district, blames the problem in part on permissive court action. He explains that the judicial system is like a revolving door--in jail one day, out the next. "If a criminal is caught, he or she is never going to be out of circulation more than three to six months. There's no prevention there. There's no consequence there."

Recent research such as the Denver Youth Survey supports Wolf's opinion. The survey, which began in the late 1980s, examined youths who get arrested, what kinds of offenses they commit, and the effect of arrest on a youth's subsequent delinquent behavior.(2)

According to David Huizinga, principal investigator, and Finn Esbensen, a research associate, the findings of the survey suggest that being arrested has little deterrent effect on most youths. The researchers explain that, "A greater percentage of the arrestees increased their delinquent behavior to more serious forms of offenses in the following year than did their counter-parts who were not arrested."(3)

Huizinga and Esbensen concluded that, "in addition to good law enforcement, it is necessary to pay greater attention to prevention strategies to successfully reduce involvement in delinquent behavior."(4)

The researchers add that programs that prevent delinquent behavior are needed for both the active offenders who are not apprehended and those who have not yet begun their delinquent career.

"The potential importance of prevention programs has implications for both the juvenile justice system and for schools," note Huizinga and Esbensen. "Schools can play a central role in preventing delinquency."(5)

SINCE 1977 POLICE OFFICERS, COMMISSIONED by the sheriff's department, patrolled the district's school grounds. At that time, officers were restricted to patrol duties. Wolf notes that by the mid 1980s the need for controlling the campus from outside elements became apparent to the school board and his department.

In 1986, the state legislature approved the formation of independent police departments dedicated solely to school districts. San Antonio's inner-city school district immediately took part in the initiative, and today 10 other school districts in the state have their own police departments.

With the assistance of Pepperdine University's National School Safety Center (an organization that promotes safe schools and helps to ensure quality education for all children), the Department of Safety and the school board put their energy and resources into a comprehensive school-based prevention program.

The key words to the program are intervention and prevention. "Our main objective," explains Wolf, "is to intervene and prevent problems from happening rather than just being an enforcement arm."

The duty of the school's police department is to provide all students with a safe environment for learning. The law enforcement agents--known as intervention officers--get involved in the students' academic and personal lives.

The police accomplish this through a variety of methods such as mentoring, counseling, and teaching, giving the students the opportunity to become good citizens and to respect others and their property.

The goal of the department is to have officers involved at every grade level and interact with as many students as possible. The school grounds are their beat, similar to the old-fashioned beat cop of years gone by. The patrolmen and women know their students, and the students go to them for assistance when they need help.

As Wolf explains, "The officers become involved with students as a friend as well as an officer. They become a community resource."

Officers work in all divisions of the department and are assigned to either work within the schools or patrol the outlying physical grounds. Each high school and middle school in the school district has law enforcement agents assigned within the facilities. Their daily routines are completely flexible, enabling them to work with kids and teachers as needed.

Officers are up-front with students about their mission. Wolf explains that at the beginning of each school year the officers hold an assembly, outlining the rules and procedures that will be enforced to keep their school safe, including periodic narcotic sweeps.

When working individually with a student, an officer interacts with the student with the goals of instilling decision-making skills, building self-esteem, and increasing the student's ability to resist peer pressure in order to avoid drugs and gangs.

Other officers handle patrol assignments, providing an outer barrier of deterrence to criminal activity on school grounds. Their assignment extends to other schools, in which they patrol and take reports of incidents.

Some officers have even adopted elementary classes and regularly participate in their learning activities. During these visits, officers reinforce to students the importance of working hard and staying in school.

The force's 72 uniformed officers are fully armed, providing a deterrence to criminal behavior. Despite their official demeanor, these individuals let students know that they are accessible to them if the students need help. In a sense, the officers are companions against crime and violence. "We want the officers to be role models for these kids, people they can look up to and relate to whatever their needs may be," continues Wolf.

Officers intervene for students in several ways--seizing guns on campus, assisting in investigations, providing CPR and first aid, finding runaways, and even helping students prepare for school plays and directing student service clubs. Their purpose is to provide a soothing, visible security presence to students.

Wolf relates a recent case in which a teacher, frustrated about a student's poor attendance and consequent inability to keep up with school work, called on a campus officer to intervene.

The officer took the boy aside and was able to draw out of the boy why he had stopped coming to school. He discovered that the boy came from a single parent home, and his mother, his primary caregiver, was rarely at home. The boy finally revealed that he had not been coming to school because his clothes were dirty and he did not know how to wash them. The officer took the boy to the laundromat and showed him how to sort, wash, and dry his clothes. The boy's attendance improved, his grades improved, and he stayed in school.

ANOTHER SEGMENT OF THE DEPARTMENT is dedicated to reducing gang membership and gang-related violence, one of the major problems affecting communities today.

Research has shown that many young people join gangs searching for fellowship, identity, attention, and recognition. These are normal avenues to companionship. Violent gangs, however, are not normal.

Dr. James Comer, a professor of child psychiatry, explains that when kids realize they are not part of the economic and social mainstream, they stop trying to bond with teachers. They lose faith in the school's power to educate them and in their own power to become educated. As a result, many drop out or join gangs and perpetuate the violence in their communities.(6)

Comer explains that schools can help prevent violence by ensuring that all children are well-served academically and by teaching children to manage conflict and anger.(7)

It is just this type of program that Wolf's department is providing. The department actively seeks to maintain that bond between children and adults through its gang awareness and prevention program.

The school district's police department has operated a gang prevention unit since 1989. Plainclothes gang intervention officers interact regularly with the gangs. Despite the fact that 75 percent of the school is composed of Hispanic students, Wolf notes that approximately 27 different gangs exist in the San Antonio area--Hispanic, Black, Anglo, and Asian.

The focus of the gang intervention officers is to have youths quit gangs, stop the violence, and find alternative activities and positive peer groups. Officers receive support from community businesses and often get employers to offer job placement to students trying to get out of gangs.

The officers assigned to the gang unit work regular school hours each day. In addition, officers often work late into the night gathering information through contact with gang members. The information is shared with other officers in the department and other police departments requesting information on gang activity in the community.

The school's police department also has a gang hot line that anonymous callers can phone to report gang activity, weapons, and drugs and to receive advice on getting out of gangs.

Gang intervention officers make sure that each gang knows about the officers' law enforcement authority. Students and parents are required to read and sign a procedures manual at the beginning of the school year that outlines, among other factors, that gang activity and gang-related paraphernalia and clothing will not be permitted on school grounds.

"The gangs know that if they don't do anything wrong," explains Wolf, "we're not going to hassle them. But if they do something--and do it on school grounds, they've asked for it."

Gang intervention officers also act as liaison between gangs, and they use their leverage to try to squelch violence among gangs. Gang members have the phone numbers of the officers, and officers carry pagers so they are able to respond at any time, day or night.

Once an officer gets information that there is going to be gang-related activity--anywhere--he or she gets together with other gang unit officers and they go to the location to try to diffuse it. At this writing, only one shooting has occurred in four years.

"It's amazing how these individuals will relate to an officer when he or she is not hard on them," Wolf explains. "The intervention officer becomes their friend. And really and truly, that's what this program is all about."

Campus and gang intervention officers spread their antigang message by giving gang awareness presentations throughout the year to other police departments, school administrators, teachers, and staff. Presentations are also given to professional groups, community organizations, and churches.

"We explain to the audience about the factors to be aware of and what to do to dissuade kids from participating in such activity," Wolf continues.

The school's police department also works closely with the county's juvenile probation department in mentoring probationary students. "We try to teach kids that what they do today is going to follow them for the rest of their lives. Once their actions result in court records, that's where it's going to be hard to change," notes Wolf.

As far as the question of using security equipment is concerned, Wolf admits that while his school district possesses a few portable metal detectors, he and his staff place their priority on developing people involvement to augment electronic technology. With the strong support of the school board and the teachers' organizations behind the department, Wolf believes that the intervention program is the most effective effort in weapons detection for the city's schools.

"Metal detectors create a challenge for kids," explains Wolf. "If they know that when they come to school they're going to be searched, they'll find a way to defeat the system.

"We find that officer involvement with the students works best. The kids know more than the officers will ever know because the kids interact with each other. If weapons are on the school grounds, the kids know where they are." Wolf continues that the officer, as a friend of the kids, will learn about the stash from them. "Kids, they're the best detector there is."

NOT EVERY OFFICER IS CUT OUT to be an intervention officer. It is a demanding job that requires a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week commitment. After all, it takes a special kind of person to get out of bed at 3:00 am to talk to a hysterical teenager or break up a fight between rival gangs.

Wolf has instituted an interview process to screen out those who do not have what it takes to handle the demands of the job.

All applicants must go through a state-approved law enforcement academy and be certified police officers. Applicants are then interviewed by Wolf and others on his staff to discern their temperment for working with kids and in a school environment.

And Wolf doesn't stop there. He interviews the family members of applicants to see if they, too, are willing to put up with the demands and schedules these individuals will face. "If your family can't handle it, you can't handle it," Wolf explains.

Wolf looks for a number of key personality traits in potential officers for this kind of job, including the ability to communicate well, the ability to be diplomatic, and finally their honesty. "I can't afford to have people who can't fit in the program," he explains. "A bad cop can destroy kids quicker than a good cop can help them."

Wolf stresses that he depends on the ability of his officers to be honest and committed to their work because "kids can read right through you when you're not straight with them."

Officers that make the cut are then put through training that encompasses dealing with child abuse cases, arrest powers, and firearms training. "We upgrade training each year so the officers don't go stale," continues Wolf. "We also send them through courses available at the law enforcement academy."

Despite the rigorous screening and training, Wolf explains that for every vacancy on the force of 72 officers, he gets 200 to 300 applicants. Wolf attributes the popularity of the program to its uniqueness. "It's allowing officers to do something that they're not able to do in other enforcement areas."

Wolf emphasizes that he is not looking for Robocop but a return to the old-fashioned beat cop who knows the community and its people.

Once individuals become intervention officers, they are given as much work as they can handle. Extra duty assignments include covering school athletic events, dances, carnivals--anything that has to do with the school.

"Our officers can only work for the school district--no moonlighting allowed," Wolf-stresses. "Our officers are strictly dedicated to the school district."

LOOKING AROUND THE NATION, BIG-CITY school systems from Los Angeles to New York are putting considerable funds into their security programs.

New York City, for example, has a security budget of $60 million, which in part serves the city's 120 high schools and nearly 1 million students. Most of the budget is allocated to maintain a force of 2,450 security officers. Earlier this year Mayor Dinkins announced an increased $28 million would go toward additional support such as security officers, metal detectors, and X-ray machines.(8)

In contrast, Wolf's security program has a budget of $3.5 million for the district's 97 schools and its 64,000 students, and as he explains, it is a good sum for a small inner-city school district.

"That's big bucks for our economy. You can't really equate dollars here to dollars in Chicago, Miami, or even Dallas because our cost of living is really different. It's a large budget for a law enforcement agency within an educational community. But," Wolf emphasizes, "it's not only serving in that capacity. It serves such a broad area of need in this community that it's money proportionately well spent."

When it comes to increasing resources toward the security program, some of the strongest support for the police department is from the parent teacher association and the teachers' union. The teachers, says Wolf, know that they are not able to handle classroom discipline problems alone, especially at the middle school level. "They see security as a real need for them to get on with the business of educating," he continues.

The board and superintendent are also pleased with the efforts of the department. The proof is in the budget. Each year the board has increased the staff of the security department because of its effectiveness. According to Wolf, "The sincerity of the board shows when it's willing to put taxpayer dollars--dollars that it's accountable for--into this program. It has to be confident that such a program is worthy and dynamic for the educational process."

The focus of upcoming resources will be toward the youngest students in the school system, children in kindergarten through sixth grade. At this writing, the school district has no full-time intervention officers assigned to elementary schools. But that will change.

"It's the 9- to 11-year-olds who are now being recruited to do the courier work for the drug dealers," explains Wolf. "And not only that. We have had several episodes where kids bring cocaine, crack, marijuana, even pistols into the schools for show-and-tell.

"We've got to address the situation regarding these younger kids. We've got to get to the little ones involved in the program today because if we don't, we'll be fighting a dead-end battle 10 or 12 years from now." (1) "Twenty Percent in High Schools Found to Carry Weapons," The New York Times, November 11, 1991, p. A13. (2) The Denver Youth Survey is a study of child and youth development sponsored by the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. It involved boys and girls who were 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 years old at the start of the survey in 1987. (3) David Huizinga and Finn Esbensen, "An Arresting View of Juvenile Justice," School Safety, Spring 1992, p. 17 (4) Huizinga and Esbensen, p. 17. (5) Huizinga and Esbensen, p. 17. (6) Jane Grady, "A New Approach to Violence Prevention," School Safety, Spring 1992, p. 34. (7) Grady, p. 34. (8) Robert D. McFadden, "In Debate over Security in Schools, System's Diversity Keeps Solutions Elusive," The New York Times, March 2, 1992, p. B3.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
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Author:Murphy, Joan H.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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