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THE SAFETY ZONE | JERRY HICKS

The Need for More Security

May 03, 1999|JERRY HICKS

The other day at Loara High School in Anaheim, which my son attends, a student was arrested for stabbing another student between classes.

That's a little scary, since most of us just assume our youngsters are safe at school. School safety is an issue parents are thinking about, especially after the Littleton, Colo., student massacre.

In Orange County, there's at least one measure of relief: Most public high schools have some type of security force on hand, guards who roam the grounds and perimeters to make sure things are as they should be.

Garden Grove Unified School District spokesman Alan Trudell points to national statistics to contend that, despite Littleton, "our schools are safer than the communities they serve."

But students don't always feel that way.

At Buena Park High School, only 57% of the students surveyed in 1995 said they felt safe at school. Security was then beefed up dramatically. Last year, the number who said they felt safe there jumped to 91%.

Might there be more trouble--students fighting, or carrying weapons--without campus security guards?

"Oh, you betcha," said Connie Duddridge, risk management supervisor for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. "They keep things down to a dull roar. They're our eyes and ears on campus."

The Santa Ana Unified district has its own police force for its 54 sites--12 armed officers, 67 non-armed guards, plus volunteers who make sure students aren't harassed on their way to and from school.

While these Santa Ana school police make about 10 arrests a month (mostly after school hours), their main function is deterrence.

"Just knowing we're there cuts down on incidents," said Jim Mayashiro, district schools police chief.

Most school guards in the county aren't armed, unless they're real police officers. Garden Grove schools, for example, are assisted by city police officers. At the Capistrano Unified School District, county sheriff's deputies serve three of its four high schools as a part of their regular workday. In exchange, the schools provide a headquarters for them.

"It's an arrangement we believe works out well," said Capistrano Supt. James A. Fleming. "They provide a presence. First thing you see when you arrive at those schools is a police vehicle."

Unfortunately, it was at the fourth school with no regular officer--Capistrano Valley High--where false rumors of another Littleton-type hit spread like wildfire this week. Sheriff's deputies were brought in for a thorough search of the school and grounds Thursday to alleviate any fears.

Capistrano schools are mostly in upscale neighborhoods. Yet district officials report this school year that guns were taken away from four students on its campuses.

School security should get even better. A new state law that takes effect for the fall semester will require that all newly hired school security guards receive state-approved training. Newport-Mesa, whose guards are unarmed, doesn't require such training but will add it to comply.

One common theme among all authorities I talked with: The safest campuses are those where students feel free to report what's going on.

This week, Fleming sent a letter to parents about safety, urging them to "stay in constant communication with your children about anything unusual they hear or observe. We will do the same."

The student stabbed at Loara is OK; he suffered a minor wound. But it's made me appreciate more the campus cops who hang around my son's school.

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