Schools report rise in assaults

City officials say better reporting could be a cause

Number of police drops

January 22, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Assaults on students and staff in Baltimore schools have increased sharply this academic year, at the same time the number of school police officers has dropped.

The number of unarmed assaults on students reported by the school system in the first four months of the school year rose from 132 to 175, an increase of 33 percent over the same period last school year. Unarmed assaults on staff shot up 42 percent, from 43 to 61.

Armed assaults on students doubled, from seven to 14. One was a shooting, while the others involved knives, BB guns, a bat, a box-cutter, a metal object and a shoe. Armed assaults on staff went from none to three, all of which involved knives. Two took place at elementary schools.

School officials said the decline in police officers may not be a cause of the increase, which they attributed in large part to better reporting.

But increases did not occur in all categories recorded by school police. Disorderly conduct and breaking and entering, for instance, both fell substantially. And the total number of incidents remained virtually the same.

School Police Chief Jansen M. Robinson said the increase in assaults and decrease in department size aren't necessarily related, since schools that lost officers didn't always show a jump in assaults.

But Robinson said his force of 74 officers -- 20 fewer than the department began the school year with -- is not large enough to adequately cover school buildings. "I have to provide some protection, and 74 is not the number that I need," he said.

The department is authorized to have 103 officers, he said.

The Sun was told that Robinson could not comment on the rise in assaults because he has been with the department only since November.

But Carmen V. Russo, the system's chief executive officer, said the school system is "doing a better job at reporting."

"I have been very clear and the school system has been very clear about enforcing the discipline code," she said, referring to the so-called "zero tolerance" policy.

If teachers and administrators don't identify the children who are acting out, she said, then they can't enforce consequences and provide appropriate interventions.

"I don't think [schools] are necessarily less safe, but I think it's a warning that shouldn't be ignored," she said, referring to the rise in assaults.

An assault can include shoving, punching or other physical contact that may cause injury.

The city's neighborhood high schools are generally thought to have the most serious safety problems -- and some do.

But a review of school police records shows that many middle schools have seen an increase in serious offenses, which include assaults, armed robberies, sex offenses and possession of knives, guns and other weapons.

In 11 of 25 middle schools, the number of such incidents went up.

At Robert Poole Middle, there were eight serious infractions in the first four months of classes, compared with one in the same period a year ago. They included seven assaults, three of them on staff.

At Fallstaff Middle, there were 12 serious violations, all of them assaults, compared with three a year ago. Five occurred in October, one of which required medical attention.

West Baltimore and Garrison middle schools also showed increases. Assaults went from three to nine and one to eight, respectively, with each school reporting one knife assault.

Several middle schools, including Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, Booker T. Washington and Lombard, improved slightly when it came to serious safety incidents.

Three neighborhood high schools saw increases, while the other six stayed about the same.

Northern, where a freshman was badly beaten in November and where teachers, students and parents have complained about feeling unsafe, reported 22 serious offenses -- 10 more than in the same period last year.

Patterson reported 11, compared with six the year before. Assaults jumped to nine from three. Northwestern also reported 11 serious offenses, up from seven. Assaults doubled to six.

In the only shooting incident at the schools, an 11th-grader was shot in the abdomen and buttock outside Lake Clifton-Eastern High School in September. The 17-year-old survived the attack.

School police record assaults, robberies, drug and weapons possessions, sex offenses, bomb threats, thefts, trespassing, disorderly conduct, arson, breaking and entering and vandalism -- offenses that happen in school buildings or on school grounds.

Overall, the number of incidents reported for September through December went virtually unchanged: 782 last school year compared with 801 this school year. Arrests, however, dropped from 395 to 348, a decrease of 14 percent.

Sgt. Preston Foreman, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 for school police, said officers and their union representatives have raised concerns about pay and staffing, among other things, to Russo.

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