Wilde Lake High principal is calling for police officer/mentor at school full time Liaison officer's presence said to help curtail crime

November 27, 1996|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

As one of two liaison police officers assigned to the county's 10 high schools, Officer Mark Richmond rotates through five schools for a few hours each week, acting as a mentor to the students and helping to curtail crime in the schools.

Now Wilde Lake Principal Bonnie Daniel is calling for Richmond to be assigned to her school full time. And she said she might be willing to forgo one teaching position at Wilde Lake to keep Richmond.

"That would be a very hard decision to make, and it means having a few extra kids in each class, but it might be the only alternative," she said.

After the liaison officer program was unveiled in April, school officials and county police quickly found that the officers' presence in their schools helped combat juvenile crime.

But six hours a week, Daniel said, just isn't enough.

"Having a full-time officer at Wilde Lake would decrease the number of incidents of any kind," Daniel said.

"I've seen big changes in kids' attitudes toward violence within the last five or six years, especially in using violence to settle conflicts. I'd rather be safe than sorry."

Wilde Lake High and the surrounding neighborhood recently have been the scene of violent confrontations between two groups of white and black students, and, Daniel said, a full-time officer in her school would decrease the chances of another clash.

Howard County police said last week that 10 Columbia teen-agers would be charged with assault and disorderly conduct stemming from a mid-October fight involving as many as 25 to 30 students. Yesterday, they said only nine will be charged.

Most are Wilde Lake High School students and all are African-American, said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman. At least one of the nine -- ranging in age from 15 to 18 -- has been charged as an adult, Keller said.

Despite reports from witnesses and passers-by to the contrary, Daniel said she believes the incident had nothing to do with race. "The kids had some concerns that it will be perceived as being racial by the outside world, and we'll have to deal with that," she said.

"I've seen no reason to suspend [the students] from school," Daniel said. "However, if any of the kids are involved in any other violent incident, I may have them taken out of school."

Keller said it costs $100,000 a year to keep Richmond and Officer Ann Bailey in the schools. That high cost drastically reduces the likelihood of 10 full-time officers in schools, he said.

"The Police Department just doesn't have the funding for that kind of program," Keller said. "And remember, we started this program as a liaison program for the students in the schools, not to have our officers become school security."

Marshall Peterson, principal of Oakland Mills High School, another school on Richmond's rotation, believes that while there is a need for security in the schools, not everyone will come out equal.

"Having a full-time police officer in the school would be great, but we're not all going to get Mark Richmond or Officer Bailey," Marshall said.

"I would settle for having Mark half-time if that meant keeping him in our school."

The Rev. Robert Turner, president of the African-American Coalition in Howard County, believes that while having police officers in the schools serves as a visual deterrent to poor behavior, liaison officers aren't the final answer.

"We need to address the root causes of what's precipitating the need for a police officer in the schools," he said. "We have to do some pro-active stuff in the schools like mentoring programs for African-American students who are performing poorly, better conflict resolution and cultural diversity training for all students."

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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