In-school arrests for violent crime continue to decline

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Continuing a trend that began six years ago, arrests for violent crimes in Chicago’s public schools dropped again last year, according to tallies by the Chicago Police Department’s School Patrol Unit.

However, police have spotted a new, disturbing trend: More students, especially girls, are bringing knives to school.

Students say they carry them for protection going to and from school, reports Lt. Andres Durbak, head of the School Patrol Unit. “And we found that girls are found carrying knives as many times or more than boys.

“We’re not taking about a machetetype weapon,” he adds, “but they may grab something like a paring knife in the kitchen on their way out the door.”

Arrests for the use, possession or sale of knives rose from 239 in 1992-93 to 355 in 1995-96. At the same time, the number of guns recovered, mainly in high schools, dropped to 19, from 128 in 1990-91, the year police officers were assigned to schools and metal detectors installed.

Over the six-year period, arrests for sexual assault dropped from 28 to 6, and arrests for assault and battery dropped from 3,008 to 2,407. Arrests for arson have gone up and down, hitting a high of 19 in 1994-95 but dropping to 3 last school year.

Besides knife possession, the only other upward trend is arrests for narcotics offenses, which rose from 360 in 1992-93 to 532 in 1995-96. Durbak says the increase is due mainly to marijuana possession, which is up nationwide.

Total arrests, which include offenses ranging from robbery to property crimes, also have steadily declined, from 9,822 in 1990-91 to 9,264 last school year.

Durbak says there are a lot of factors contributing to the decrease in school crime. “Schools are paying closer attention to the problem,” he says. “They are taking the zero-tolerance policy seriously.”

Durbak adds that his officers are looking for patterns that could help guide security moves. “We’re looking at the time of day crimes are committed, what months are generating more activity, how weather plays into it, who’s committing what offenses.” He adds that officers also are “reaching out to 8th-graders and talking to them about the law and the consequences of crime and violence. Together all these elements will bring about positive results.”

In addition, schools continue to hire more security staff with their own discretionary funds, which increased substantially under school reform; the number rose from 59 in 1990-91 to 528 last school year, according to a budget analysis by the Chicago Panel on School Policy. Meanwhile, the number of security workers the board pays for remains constant at about 750.

Further, more schools are forming parent patrol units, which rose from 170 in 1994-95 to 267 last school year, according to the school system’s Department of Safety and Security. As Catalyst went to press, the department was planning “a major campaign” to boost the number still higher. “We plan to post posters and billboards and advertise on buses and trains,” reports project manager Nancy Swanstron.