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California and the West

Violent Crimes Jump 17% in Schools

Safety: For the first time in five years, those offenses exceed property violations, the state says. But officials maintain campuses are safe.


The rate of crimes against people--including battery and sexual offenses--increased 17% last year in California schools, according to a report released by the state Department of Education on Wednesday.

Rates of weapons possession, bombings, bomb threats, loitering, drug and alcohol sales and burglary decreased. But rates of all other crimes either held steady or rose on campuses throughout the state, the annual school crime report said.

The rates of property crimes such as vandalism and theft as well as drug and alcohol offenses climbed slightly--at least in part due to heightened reporting, a department official said.

This was the first time in the five years of school crime reporting that the rate of crimes against people exceeded the property crime rate.

Still, officials insisted that schools remain relatively safe.

"They tend to be the safest institutions in the communities in which they reside," said Doug Stone, spokesman for the education department,

But with battery reaching a rate of 3.88 incidents per 1,000 students--the highest rate of any type of crime--a group that monitors school safety expressed concern.

"There seems to be a continuing impulsiveness with regard to assault, not only in schools here in California, but around the country," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village.

The prevalence of different crimes varies by grade level, according to the report. In high school, drug and alcohol offenses are more common. But in middle school and, increasingly, elementary school, crimes against fellow students--such as battery--are most frequently reported.

Stephens suggested improved conflict resolution programs, peer mediation and enhanced adult supervision as possible solutions.

School officials confiscated 20% fewer guns and 13% fewer knives than in the previous year, according to the report.

The small rise in rates of drug use and drug possession probably is the result of better reporting, not an actual increase, the report said.

In Los Angeles County, rates of battery and property crimes increased by 18% and 14% respectively compared with the previous year. However, apart from property crimes, crime rates were at or below the statewide level.

Two districts within the county, however, reported very high rates of property crime and battery.

The 23,500-student Pasadena district had the highest rate of property crime at 18.48 per 1,000 students. District spokesman Erik Nasarenko said part of the increase was due to an act of vandalism and arson involving many students last June that resulted in $50,000 damage to a brand new science lab.

A task force created last summer to address vandalism and graffiti made school officials more vigilant about reporting such acts and may have contributed to the increase, Nasarenko said.

Eastside Union School District in Lancaster had the highest rate of battery among Los Angeles County public school districts. According to the state report, the 2,500-student district had nearly 25 incidents of battery per 1,000 students.

Supt. Constance Webb dismissed the statistic Wednesday, saying that a rookie principal at one of the district's four campuses was incorrectly recording "mutual fights," or scuffles between students, as batteries.

This school year, by comparison, Eastside Union has recorded just a few incidents of battery, Webb said.

Students involved in school crimes continue to be overwhelmingly male, both as victims and suspects. The report concluded that school crime is generally the result of those students' behavior and not of strangers entering school property.

State education officials hope that districts will use the data as a tool to evaluate and improve safety measures on their campuses.

Such concerns heightened nationwide after the Columbine High School killings two years ago. Gov. Gray Davis allocated $101 million to school safety efforts, and many school districts increased counseling staff, Stone said.

Still, California continues to rank last among all states with a student-to-counselor ratio of 979 to 1.

The report urged schools to develop partnerships with law enforcement and other agencies in safety and prevention efforts.

"In our eyes, school safety is a 365-day-a-year program," Stephens said. "It is critical to remember that a single crime is still one too many."


Times staff writer Massie Ritch contributed to this story.


Crime in California Schools

Crimes against people increased in public school districts statewide last year, while drug and alcohol offenses stayed around the same level in the state, according to a report released by the California Department of Education.





'98-'99 '99-'00 incidents per incidents per Crime 1,000 students 1,000 students % change Crimes against people* 4.02 4.70 17% Property crimes 4.12 4.28 4% Drug and alcohol offenses 3.94 4.03 2% Other crimes** 1.88 1.61 -14%






'98-'99 '99-'00 incidents per incidents per Crime 1,000 students 1,000 students % change Drug and alcohol offenses 2.95 2.83 -4% Battery 1.90 2.25 18% Assault with a deadly weapon 0.37 0.34 -8% Property crimes 4.56 5.22 14%


* Battery, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery/extortion, sex offense, homicide.

** Possession of weapon, loitering/trespassing, destructive/explosive devices, bomb threat

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