Focusing on schools: the police fight back.

Author:Austin, Charles P., Sr.
Position:Stemming the Violence

The state of South Carolina in 1992 had 736 incidents of aggravated assaults involving juveniles aged 16 and younger using some type of firearm. In 1991, Richland County had the second highest rate of juvenile commitments to the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. The trend for juvenile offenders is paralleling the trend of adult offenders. Demands are being made for truth in sentencing, longer periods of incarceration, more boot camps and more prisons.

The National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has conducted research on gun acquisition and possession by male juvenile inmates and students. Survey responses from selected juvenile institutions in four states and 10 inner-city public high schools near those institutions showed that the main reasons young men give for acquiring or possessing a firearm were self-defense and self-preservation. Slowly, the issue of juvenile violence has pulled ahead of the war on drugs as one of the nation's top concerns.

There are many opinions about what causes juvenile violence. Some think that graphic violence on television and video games and violent themes in music influence juveniles. Some point to the lack of economic development in the inner city and the absence of a common value system in the community. Regardless of the causes of serious and violent crimes, law enforcement agencies are faced with a dichotomous role of reactive and proactive juvenile and adult crime fighting and prevention. The City of Columbia Police Department has established a proactive focus on juvenile crime prevention and implemented a multifaceted strategy throughout the city schools in Richland County School District One.

The police department built a foundation by placing law enforcement officers into the schools one step at a time. Over the past four years, the department has had a presence in one form or another in every public elementary school, middle school and high school throughout Columbia. The department uses national programs such as the well-known D.A.R.E. programs and has implemented the School Safety Patrol Officer Program in the middle schools. In order to serve a group of students underserved by national programs, officers have become involved in a program designed to reach a broader cross-section of high school students by combining driver's education classes with classes in conflict resolution, life-skills and social responsibility.

The elementary school...

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