Detroit Looks to Schools To Help Combat Upsurge in Youth Crime
Detroit--Civic and educational leaders here say they are hopeful that tough school-security measures announced by Mayor Coleman A. Young in late November will help curb the recent upsurge in shootings and criminal assaults involving the city's school-age youths.
The measures--which included the hiring of 40 new school-security officers, bringing the force up to 120 officers, and the initiation of unannounced "shakedowns" of students by police and security officers using hand-held metal detectors--were prompted largely by public outrage over the shooting of more than 200 youths under the age of 17 in the city this past year. Nineteen youths were killed in such incidents, the vast majority of which were not school-related.
Two Shootings in Schools
According to school officials, two shootings have occurred inside schools since classes began in September. In one incident, a bystander was shot as security officers attempted to detain an outsider who had carried a gun into a high school. In the other, a student involved in a fight was shot in the leg when a gun fell from his opponent's pocket.
In addition, Frank Blount, director of security for the city school board, reported that 706 students in the 210,000-student district were assaulted either in school or going to or from school during 1983-84. Mr. Blount also said school officials had seized 79 guns and 89 other weapons during the 1983-84 school year, and had confiscated 42 guns and other weapons by late November of this school year.
'Hard Times, Hard Measures'
"We will search every student and every locker and every other orifice and opening that has to be searched," Mayor Young was quoted as saying during a citywide "summit" on crime in late November at which he unveiled the new school-security initiative. "We will use electronic devices and whatever other means. That's a strong measure, but hard times call for hard measures."
In an interview last week, however, Arthur Jefferson, general superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, described the problem in terms somewhat milder than the Mayor's.
"Schools are an important entity in the community, and to the degree that [violent crime] is a community problem, we are interested in it," he said. "But one should not carry it too far and say that children are not safe in school. Obviously, when you have one incident in school it's one too many. But it's not an epidemic. We have thousands of children going to and from school each day and nothing happens."
The key components of the security effort include:
"Strike forces" composed of police and school-security officers, who will conduct unannounced searches with metal detectors in city schools. The first two searches were carried out simultaneously on Dec. 11 at Cody High School on the city's west side and Southeastern High School on3the east side. Police and security guards scanned students with the detectors as they arrived at school. According to press reports, no guns were found, but some knives and a small amount of marijuana was confiscated. A third search, which resulted in the seizure of three small knives, was carried out late last month at Emerson Middle School.
A new school-district policy of filing civil suits against parents of children caught bringing weapons to school. Among other things, the city will seek restitution for the costs of apprehending and detaining such students. Mr. Jefferson said the city is preparing to file suit against the parents of two youths who were caught bringing handguns to school.
The allocation by the city school board of $294,000 to hire 40 new school-security officers. Funding for the expansion of the security force came from a four-mil tax increase approved by city voters in November. Mr. Jefferson said the new security officers completed their training last week.
The creation of four mobile school-security units to patrol the streets near schools in well-marked cars.
In addition, State Representative Perry Bullard has announced that he will introduce a bill during the legislature's next session establishing a fund to be used by school districts for the creation or enhancement of school-security programs. Funds would be provided to districts on a matching basis. Representative Bullard was urged by the Michigan Education Association to draft the measure.
The security measures appear to have the strong support of many of the city's high-school students.
Two weeks before the citywide summit on crime, 130 teen-agers representing the city's 22 high schools and several youth organizations met on the campus of Wayne State University to discuss the problem of youth violence. The meeting was sponsored by New Detroit Inc., a civic group organized to improve race relations and to help rebuild portions of the city devastated by the 1967 riots.
Factors identified by the students as contributors to the crime problem included: youths' easy access to weapons and drugs; fashionable clothing and jewelry that make students targets for attacks; the frustration of teen-agers over a lack of job opportunities; the presence of gang members and dropouts in schools due to lax security; and negative coverage of schools by the media.
The students called on school officials to install metal detectors in schools, to conduct more hall sweeps to identify and oust outsiders, and to check student identification cards "stringently" throughout the school day. They also suggested that job opportunities for teen-agers and young adults be created "immediately" and that parents more closely supervise their children.
According to Mr. Jefferson, the new security initiative is already yielding positive results.
"Several things have happened," he said. "One is that sensitivity to the problem has been heightened. The students are more concerned and are more cooperative. The same is true of parents and staff members.
"Second," he continued, "we have made it clear to our students and their parents that there are certain behaviors that we will not tolerate, and that we will take take decisive action, especially with handguns."
'The 5-Percent Problem'
"If I could get rid of 200 kids, I'd be in great shape; I'd reduce 80 percent of my problems," said Paul Richards, principal of Denby High School on the city's east side. "It's the old 5-percent problem. Whatever business you're in, 5 percent are always rotten."
Mr. Richards also said that in his opinion "educators and parents are maybe more concerned with the problem than the students."
"They adjust to disruption, bounce back, but we take it harder, it seems," he explained. "When we have a bad fight, the kids just stand around and watch it. To them, it's entertainment. Strangely enough, they make the adjustments, they find the instructors and guidance counselors and do very well."
With respect to students who present problems, he said, in most cases those problems "are directly related to parents."
"Either they're split up or a parent has deserted the family," he said. "But so many of these kids can cope with it. If you give any kid one person who cares, that will be reflected in classwork and grades. You take that person away and the behavior will be reflected the other way."