The number of guns seized on California's public school campuses last year fell for the second straight year, but that heartening news was tempered by a 16% rise in the number of knives, according to a report released Wednesday.
Property crimes such as graffiti and vandalism remain the most frequent type of transgression committed on campuses across the state. But in another glimmer of good news, losses from such incidents fell to about $17 million last school year from more than $22.5 million the year before.
Campus crime, like crime in the broader community, is generally going down statewide, according to the third annual report from the state Department of Education and attorney general's office. "The vast majority of our students are able to learn in safe environments," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.
For Los Angeles County schools, the crime rate for most types of offenses was nearly unchanged and, except in the category of property crimes, remained below that of the state as a whole. But even property crimes in the county dropped for the second straight year and the average loss from each offense was down as well. Only the rate of drug- and alcohol-related incidents rose countywide.
The crime rate for most types of offenses in the 697,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest, was mostly unchanged.
The statistics show that fighting on campus is the single most frequent type of violent crime. Knives are rarely used in assaults although more are being confiscated. The number of guns confiscated is down 38% from two years ago, and they are rarely used in the commission of a crime.
Education officials acknowledge that the completeness and accuracy of the data varies from district to district. However, they say the quality of the data is improving, and they note that the statewide trends parallel juvenile crime reports issued by other state and federal agencies.
Still, a state education department spot-check estimated that about 22% of the drug- and alcohol-related infractions on public school campuses go unreported. And throughout the 150-page report is the caution that rapid changes in crime rates may be due to changes in reporting or enforcement practices rather than any sudden shift in campus climate.
In releasing the report, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Eastin announced that they would form a statewide study group with a goal of reducing on-campus crime even more rapidly.
Lockyer also announced that the state has set aside $10 million for crime prevention, including after-school programs, that school districts may apply for.
Crime on campus is an explosive subject. Although incidents might be rare, they can have a dramatic effect on public perceptions and the reported crime rate, especially in small districts.
The 2,700-student El Segundo Unified School District had 29 incidents of drug or alcohol use or possession last school year. But that translated into a doubling of the rate from a year earlier.
A single serious incident of vandalism in the district in 1997 produced a sevenfold increase in the amount of property damage per student. In that case, it cost $17,000 to replace windows at an elementary school that were shot out.
Still, El Segundo Supt. William Watkins said the district finds the data worthwhile, especially for identifying trends. "It helps us know where we are," he said.
Anthony Avina, the superintendent of the 10,300-student Whittier Union High School District, was pleased that the rate of drugs and alcohol offenses had been cut more than 50% in the last two years.
He said students are doing better academically, principals are working hard to enforce anti-drug and anti-alcohol rules, and the district collaborates closely with local police agencies. Even so, he said, the district's rate remains one of the highest in the county.
"We're making significant progress, but we're not where we want to be," he said.
The Alhambra City High School District reported the highest rate of drug- and alcohol-related problems in the county, nearly 17 for every 1,000 students in the 8,000-student district.
That was more than twice the rate of the previous year and it already has prompted a response. To combat a rise in marijuana use on campus, the district has enlisted the help of drug-sniffing dogs to make unannounced searches.
"We've got kind of zero-tolerance on this stuff," said Asst. Supt. Diane Saurenman.
Complete statewide, county and district crime data are available on the California Department of Education Web site at http://www.cde.ca.gov.
* L.A. COUNTY DISTRICT BY DISTRICT RUNDOWN: B4