School Climate & Safety

Boston Police Conduct School Arrest Sweeps

By Darcia Harris Bowman — October 01, 2003 2 min read
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Boston police swept into several city schools recently and arrested 17 students as part of an ongoing program called Operation Clean Slate.

Police made the arrests Sept. 18, one day after a 15-year-old student and a school police officer at Charlestown High School were wounded in a shooting near the campus on the north side of the city. The starting date for the districtwide school sweeps was planned before the shooting, a police official said last week.

District and police officials said officers arrested the students on 25 outstanding warrants, with some teenagers facing multiple charges that included assault. Those who were taken into custody ranged in age from 13 to 17, said Jonathan E. Palumbo, a spokesman for the 62,400-student Boston school district.

Mr. Palumbo said the district cooperates with the police department by confirming which individuals with outstanding warrants attend city schools and providing police with the names, schools, and class schedules of suspects.

Paul A. Fitzgerald, a lieutenant commander of the police department’s youth-crime division, said the police have been conducting the sweeps for the past seven or eight years as part of a larger community program. Two days before the school arrests, he said, police also made some 20 arrests at a city housing project in a similar operation.

With Operation Clean Slate, “felony warrants are what we’re concerned about,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “We don’t want dangerous criminals in our schools.”

School security expert Ronald D. Stephens said the Boston operation is an example of how districts across the country are relying more and more on local police to keep schools safe.

“It’s appropriate for law enforcement to be involved, especially when there are felony charges,” said Mr. Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center, a private, nonprofit organization in Westlake Village, Calif.

“But my concern,” he added, “is that such action should be done in a thoughtful and responsible way because you don’t want to frighten students or disrupt the educational process.”

Classroom Disruptions

Police made arrests at six Boston high schools, including Charlestown, and one middle school. The students were typically called from their classrooms by school principals and taken into custody by police waiting in the main offices, Mr. Palumbo said.

“They do their best not to disrupt what is going on in the classroom,” Mr. Palumbo said of the police, “but some of these crimes are assaults.”

“Student safety is our main concern,” he continued, “so if police want to arrest individuals who have warrants out, the district will support that effort.”

Mr. Palumbo said last week that police had identified the intended victim of the shooting near Charlestown High, which took place at the end of the school day near a city bus stop 150 yards from the school. The unidentified male was transferred to a different city school and won’t be allowed to return to Charlestown High, the spokesman said.

Lieutenant Fitzgerald, however, said the boy was in the process of being expelled from school altogether and faces numerous criminal charges not connected to the shooting near the school.

At press time, police had no suspects in that shooting, and Lieutenant Fitzgerald said the investigation was continuing.

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