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California and the West

Schools Report Rise in Drug Crime, Violence

Safety: State data show decrease in property offenses, though dollar losses increased last year. Costly arsons are blamed for higher price tag.


California public schools reported an increase in violent crime and drug and alcohol offenses last year, and a decrease in property crimes, according to a new state report.

Despite the drop in property crimes like vandalism and burglary, the losses incurred by schools grew from about $17 million to $25 million. State officials attributed the higher price tag to several costly arson fires.

Data from the report published by the California Department of Education showed an 11% jump in drug and alcohol offenses. One reason for the increase was a change in state law that added possession of marijuana paraphernalia to the list of incidents school officials must report, officials said.

Violent crimes rose 7%, due largely to an increase in incidents of battery--the use of force or violence on another person. Four students out of every 1,000 were victims of violent crimes, according to the report.

The number of confiscated guns, 637, remained about the same, while 6,168 knives were found in students' possession, a small increase. These weapons are rarely used during altercations.

Even with the increases, California schools are generally safer than the neighborhoods around them, state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said. About 13 campus offenses were committed for every 1,000 public school students statewide last year.

"The reality is that our schools continue to be safe havens for the vast majority of our students," said Eastin. "We're obviously disappointed that drugs and alcohol are up and battery is up."

In Los Angeles County schools, the overall crime rate was below the state average. Crime in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest, was lower than the county rate.

In mid-March, a task force created by Eastin and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer will offer recommendations for improving school safety, including a call for more counselors on campuses, Eastin said.

State officials acknowledge that the completeness and accuracy of figures can vary because districts are responsible for reporting their own data.

But they stressed that on-site visits and training workshops are improving the accuracy of the report.

"We have a lot more confidence in our numbers [this year] than we probably ever have," Eastin said. She said that the increased accuracy had contributed to the rise in crime rates.

Officials at the Long Beach Unified School District agreed, saying on-site monitoring by state officials last year had resulted in a more thorough crime report.

In previous years, the school's data often left out property crimes discovered by after-hours maintenance workers and incidents thought to be insignificant, a district spokesman said.

As a result, the district's overall crime rate more than doubled to 13.7 incidents per 1,000 students. A district spokesman, Richard Van Der Laan, said that should not be cause for alarm.

"I think there would be a cause for concern if it increases in future years," he said. "More thorough and complete reporting are largely responsible for the changes you see." The new figures will provide a baseline for comparison in future years, Van Der Laan said.

"It does no one any favors--no schools, no students, no parents--to be an ostrich with your head in the sand," Van Der Laan said. "You need to know what's going on and compare each ensuing year with that."

Students playing pranks after last April's Columbine shooting more than doubled the number of bomb threats made to schools, from 236 to 548 incidents statewide. But these offenses represented less than 1% of all crimes.

The report will be available today at 8 a.m. on the California Department of Education's Web site:


Crime at School

The state released its fourth annual report on school safety. Crime rates are calculated per 1,000 students.


Note: Total crime rate does not include these low-incidence crimes, which were less than 4.2% of all crimes schools reported statewide: bomb threats, possession of destructive/explosive devices, loitering/trespassing and homicide.

Source: California Department of Education for 1998-99

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