Shooting prompts meeting on school security 19 gun incidents since Sept. noted

February 26, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

An article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly stated the average number of security incidents per day that took place in Baltimore public schools through the end of December 1991. The correct number is an average of 12.5 incidents per day, up from 10.7 per day through the same period in 1990, according to school police.

The Sun Regrets the Errors

Violence is a daily fact of life for Baltimore school principals, who see more police and a special school for disruptive young teen-agers as partial solutions.

That picture emerged from a special meeting on school security called yesterday by Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, a day after a school police officer at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School was shot in a scuffle with a 14-year-old student.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The incident has renewed the debate over school safety.

School police reported 19 gun incidents in the first four months of the school year, up 300 percent from last year.

And Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose daughter attends RolandPark, weighed in yesterday with a proposal for a special middle school that would deal with the most troublesome youngsters.

The mayor said he has been considering the idea for at least a year, and has discussed it with Dr. Amprey in recent weeks.

The city has an alternative for older students, the publicly run Francis M. Wood Alternative High School, the mayor said.

PD "What we don't have is a good alternative in the middle schools.

The problem is in the middle schools," the mayor said at a briefing to his Cabinet yesterday on school security.

Such a school could be privately run under contract from the city, and "would be freed of all the constraints that we have now in the public system," he said.

The mayor said he expects a proposal to go to the city school board in about 30 days.

Anne Arundel County has had a similar, publicly run program in place since 1968, at about the double the cost per student of a regular education, according to a county education official.

Baltimore principals, meanwhile, say they are on the front lines in an increasingly violent school environment.

"The violence is spilling over from the community into our schools," said Beverly Crisp, principal of Northeast Middle School. "We are having to deal with that almost on a daily basis."

She said her school does not have a full-time security officer, and said "my administrators and my teachers are becoming very apprehensive about trying to corner intruders and trying to get trespassers off the property."

Many of the nearly 50 middle school and high school principals who met with Dr. Amprey at school headquarters yesterday afternoon echoed those sentiments.

"You're going to have to help kids deal with anger," said Rosetta Stith, principal of Laurence G. Paquin Middle-Senior High School. "You have kids who don't really have any sense of care over life."

Another principal said: "I have not seen such anger as this in my life."

The crime statistics appear to bear out their sentiments. Through December, gun incidents were on the increase in Baltimore schools compared with the previous school year, according to ++ the most recent statistics available from school police.

A total of 19 gun incidents had been reported from September through December 1991, compared with six in the same period in 1990, nine in the same period in 1989 and 26 in the same period in 1988.

In addition to Monday's shooting, two students accidentally shot themselves in the leg in separate incidents last fall, one at Lake Clifton Senior High School, the other at Hamilton Middle School.

About half of this year's gun incidents -- including all three shootings -- took place inside school buildings. The rest happened on school grounds, or near the school.

Guns appear to be an exception to the crime trend that includes a slight increase in misdemeanor offenses, according to Larry Burgan, chief of school police.

In all, school police logged 939 offenses, or 1.63 each day in the first four months of school, compared with 1.5 a day in the same period a year before.

"We're seeing an increase in the misdemeanor kinds of things, common assault, disruptive, disorderly conduct kind of things," he said.

The mayor and superintendent reject such dramatic measures as metal detectors in the schools, an increasingly common approach in big cities.

"It's so unlike what I like to think schools ought to be," Dr. Amprey said. He also rejected the suggestion that school police officers should carry guns or clubs.

At least 23 school districts around the country use metal detectors in their school security arsenal, said George E. Butterfield, deputy director of the National School Safety Center, a think tank on school security in Westlake Village, Calif.

Among the 23 school districts are Detroit, which has used metal detectors since 1985; Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Richmond, St. Louis and Washington.

Most of those cities use hand-held detectors, rather than the walk-through gates familiar to airline passengers, Mr. Butterfield said in a telephone interview. The hand-held detectors cost less than $1,000 and normally are used in connection with a legal search.

But a few cities -- including Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas -- use at least some of the more expensive gate devices, despite a price tag of more than $4,000.

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