The statement by a Department of Justice official might have seemed in conflict with the data but probably isn't: "Schools are still the safest place for our kids."
Yet we were also told that an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 guns are carried to schools everyday in this country and since 1992, there have been 250 deaths at public schools.
And there were more statistics, equally troubling on the face of it. Figures about thousands of student expulsions for gun possession on campus and the like.
The information-statements and data-were presented in a panel discussion and workshop at the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police's 106th Annual Conference in Charlotte, N.C., a massive event drawing upwards of 15,000 people and covered elsewhere in this issue (see pages 40-47).
The workshop, entitled "School Safety: Innovative Strategies from Lessons Learned," was moderated by the IACPS's Research Center director and featured panelists from the federal Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, plus school safety specialists from several states. It drew a packed house of more than 600 people and is it any surprise?
The Columbine High School incident last spring seared itself into the American consciousness and while everyone has probably grown tired of hearing about it, the fact remains that mass incidents of violence have continued both on and off campus since then. There were Conyers, Ga., and Hawaii, and others.
But back to the IACP panel.
How do those numbers I've cited above stack up against what is going on outside of campuses? It's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison but for some context: The juvenile violent crime arrest rate has been declining steadily since 1994 and it now hovers around 400 arrests per 100,000 juvenile ages 10-17. Basically, that equates to about three juveniles out of every 750 kids. Not awful.
Similarly, the number of juveniles victimized each year in this country has dropped dramatically since early last decade. As of several years ago-the most recent data available-the juvenile victimization rate is somewhere around 25 per 1,000 kids ages 12-17.
Aside from the statistics suggesting that while high schools (and lower grade schools) in the United Sates are relatively-and comparatively-safer than perhaps many other locations juveniles visit, such as their homes or neighborhoods, the school safety panel at IACP offered some real, tangible and sensible ideas for reducing violence on campuses.
Heard often were such familiar notions as student discipline, increased accountability, intervention and alternative programs, random locker-inspections, increased emphasis on academic achievement, more involvement of local police in the schools, links to the community and law enforcement and so forth.
But what also rang true to this author and many of the chiefs of police in attendance I spoke with later, was this simple idea of "getting the local police more involved."
I've been to several law enforcement conferences recently where the issues of school violence and safety for students has been a workshop or panel discussion. And while the fact is surely not surprising, what was encouraging was the repeated refrain heard from everyone-law officers and academics alike: increase the visibility and presence of your local police department at schools.
For more information, contact the National Association of School Resource Officers at (888) 316-2776 or on the Internet visit [email protected] or the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) best reached at its website: ojjpd.ncjrs.org.
Also keep in mind a panel discussion I am moderating later this month at the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers' annual conference in Richmond, Va. Titled "Mass Violence in America: The Law Enforcement Response," it will not be focused exclusively on school shootings. However, it is certain to get into that territory in the context of major incidents of violence on campuses.
For more information on ASLET's conference, Jan. 11-15, call (302) 645-4080 or see the ad on the inside cover of our December edition.
Dennis Hall is the executive editor of POLICE and a former police officer.