Crimes skyrocket in city schools Gun-related cases are at highest level in more than a decade

September 29, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore schools reported a sharp increase in crime last academic year, including almost twice as many robberies and crimes involving guns as in 1993-1994, according to a school district report.

The tally was made public after the shooting Wednesday of a student outside Lake Clifton-Eastern High School. It was the second shooting investigated by school police since classes started Sept. 6. The earlier incident involved a report of shots fired and bullet casings found at Northern High School two weeks ago.

"Two gun incidents are not a good sign" so early in the new school year, said John Wallace, assistant chief of school police. It is too soon to predict whether last year's upswing in reports will continue, he added.

Last year, school police investigated 122 gun-related crimes, including assaults, robberies and gun possession cases, the annual crime summary says. That level of firearms violations had not been reported in more than a decade. During the past three years, gun cases nearly tripled.

Moreover, school police also found that other crimes were up sharply.

Robberies more than doubled in the year, up from 57 to 125. In 46 of those cases, a weapon was used. Sixteen of the robbery victims were school employees.

Last year, assaults on teachers and other staffers rose by 80 percent, from 302 to 543; weapons were used in 17 cases. Reported assaults on school police officers -- including resisting arrest and minor scuffles -- doubled from 63 to 123, with 14 involving weapons.

Some of the statistical increase can be attributed to aggressive policing and to campaigns that encouraged the system's 113,000 students to report incidents, Mr. Wallace said. Nonetheless, he added, crime "definitely increased. I think that last year's [rise] was one of the most dramatic we have seen in some time."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who received a copy of the two-page tally yesterday, asked school police to follow up with school-by-school and community details so that the roots of the crime problem can be determined.

"The summary says a lot of the increase is attributed to better reporting, but some of the numbers I've seen I cannot believe are better reporting," he said. "I need to know more in order to comment."

Mr. Schmoke said he favors programs that put more adults in schools, such as parent patrols, rather than using metal detectors as other cities have done.

Many school employees and students have begun reporting activity they may have ignored previously, School Police Chief Linda Willis said yesterday. "They're fed up. We're getting more cooperation."

Despite the rise, a union spokeswoman said the school system's figures are understated.

"That doesn't even touch the number of people who tell us they've been assaulted and who don't file reports," said Linda Prudente, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union. "They feel the administration makes it too much of a hassle."

She says a school policy discouraging suspensions has emboldened some students. As a result, she says, the union warns its members to take precautions, such as not eating lunch alone in classrooms. This month, the union also began collecting incident reports from teachers -- four so far this year, she said.

As the level of crime has increased, the job of policing 184 schools with 83 officers has become more difficult.

Baltimore school police policy prohibits officers assigned to schools from carrying guns and school police officers say the force is understaffed.

According to John Jones, a school police officer and union representative, the force is spread thinly, affecting their ability to deter crime and raising the risks to their personal safety.

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