High schools decline in crime

by Andrew Batten

CHARLOTTE – Hopewell and West Mecklenburg high schools reported another decline in crime and violence during the 2009-10 year, according to a report released last week by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

In 2008-09, West Meck reported 108 incidents, more crime than any other school in the district. Hopewell reported the second highest number of incidents in the school system – with 68.

But in the past year, reported incidents on the West Meck campus dropped to 49, placing it fifth among Charlotte-Mecklenburg public high schools. Hopewell followed in sixth with 47 reported incidents. North Mecklenburg High School reported 43 incidents and placed seventh among Mecklenburg County public high schools.

Incidents reported at Hopewell fell into the following categories: possession of a weapon, nine; assaults involving a weapon, two; drug possession, 18; sexual offenses, three; possession of alcohol, five; assault on school personnel, eight; robbery with a weapon, one; and assault resulting in serious injury, one.

Incidents reported at West Meck fell into the following categories: possession of a weapon, eight; drug possession, 27; possession of alcohol, three; assault on school personnel, seven; and assault resulting in serious injury, four. West Meck’s biggest decline was in drug possession, which numbered 60 in 2008-09.

Jones

Hopewell Principal Louise Jones credits the school’s lockout policy in keeping incidents low. “Part of that is the expectation that students go to class on time,” Jones said.

Under the policy, teachers lock classroom doors once class has started. In the beginning, as many as 400 students were shut out for not getting to class on time. Since then, those numbers have dwindled to five to 10 students on any given day.

The idea behind this strategy, Jones said, was to prevent students from roaming the hallways and getting into trouble.

Administrators and other staff also donate time on Saturday mornings to give students an alternative to in-school and out-of-school suspension. Supervised detentions allow students to recover absences and use resources, like the media center, to catch up on work.

“It’s been helpful because it gives parents an opportunity to have another consequence before the child is removed from a class,” Jones said.

Among the 10 violent crimes identified by the state, four declined district wide: assault involving use of a weapon, kidnapping, rape and robbery without a dangerous weapon. Three of the 10 remained at zero for both years: death by other than natural causes, robbery with a dangerous weapon and taking indecent liberties with a minor.

The remaining three increased: assault resulting in serious injury, sexual assault and sexual offense. In all, the number of incidents classified as violent acts increased from 62 to 107 in district schools for the 2009-2010 school year, the data shows.

Other offenses for which the state gathers data include assault on school personnel, bomb threats, burning of school buildings, possession of alcoholic beverages, controlled substances, firearms or explosives, and weapons.

All of these incidents increased in the 2009-2010 school year, according to state data. The largest increases occurred in assaults on school personnel (215 incidents, up from 169 a year earlier) and possession of a weapon (543 incidents, up from 484 a year earlier.)

A change in state guidelines probably contributed to the increase in assaults. State officials expanded the definition of school personnel to include volunteers, police officers, sports referees and others.

Statewide, schools experienced increases in drug possessions, sexual assaults and assaults on school personnel. Schools also saw declines in the number of alcohol possession, robbery and assault involving a weapon.

Possession of a weapon, assault on school personnel, and  possession of a controlled were the acts most frequently reported in elementary school.

Possession of a weapon and drug and alcohol possession were the most reported middle and high school offenses.

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