Our Assault on Learning team has been reporting for the past few days on a proposal currently being floated to station city police in the Philadelphia School District's toughest schools. (Read our Saturday story breaking this news here: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/special_packages/inquirer/school-violence/20110409_Nutter_and_Ramsey_consider_putting_armed_police_officers_in_some_schools.html)
In today's paper, our colleague Jeff Shields, reporting on a City Council hearing, noted that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told Council that "there are some schools right now being run by gang members." (Read that story here: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/119674379.html) This, presumably, is evidence for why city police ought to be in schools.
That line really stopped me. Gangs running some city schools. Wow.
To be clear: schools currently have school police officers. They do not carry weapons and do not have arrest powers, though they may detain students until city police arrive to make an arrest. There are 635 full- and part-time officers in the district, though the current dire budget situation might mean significant cuts to that force.
A proposal now in preliminary stages would give city police much more of a role in keeping order in schools. It doesn't sound like every school would get a city police officer, but we'd see many more officers (presumably armed) in schools than we do now. I've heard reaction ranging from "finally!" to "how does making school feel like more of a prison help the problem?"
In reporting our series, we talked to many teachers, staffers and students about conditions inside schools. Some talked about neighborhood gangs really affecting safety. I'd love to hear your feedback on two things - one, for those inside schools, how prevalent is gang activity at your school? And two, for everyone - city cops in schools - good idea, or bad?
UPDATE: While we're on the topic, you might also read the commentary of Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. She wrote today about the district's zero tolerance policy. An excerpt: "Instead of wielding the sledgehammer of zero tolerance, schools must respond to disruptive and violent behavior with a continuum of intervention and support strategies. The district needs to develop a balanced approach that provides serious responses to harmful violence but doesn't unnecessarily criminalize minor infractions."
The full link is here: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/119674249.html