The murder of 18-year-old James Boone outside a North Philadelphia high school earlier this month marked the third fatal shooting close to a Philadelphia public school within the last 12 months.
No police officer was present at the Jan. 6 shooting at the Murrell Dobbins Vocational-Technical High School. To calm concerns of similar incidents, Mayor John Street announced recently that addressing crime is his top priority.
In fact, some Penn students who were brought up in Philadelphia point to the pervasiveness of crime as a factor that affected their high-school experience.
"The state of schools in Philadelphia is terrible," said College sophomore Will Weiss, who is a former student of Central High School. "At my high school, there were metal detectors and school-bag scanners. ... It took away from the school atmosphere."
Nonetheless, Weiss never witnessed any crime as a student in Philadelphia.
In response to community concerns, Street launched a new security initiative -- Operation Safe Schools -- which is the result of a collaboration between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police, as well as other law enforcement agencies.
While police officers have always patrolled Philadelphia schools during dismissal, the goal of Operation Safe Schools -- which was launched last month -- is to ensure that crime is prevented no matter when or where it occurs.
"Mayor Street has always been concerned about the well-being of children in this city, and this was part of his grand plan," Street spokeswoman Deborah Bolling said.
The program will allow students, school employees and other members of the community to call a 24-hour hotline to alert law enforcement of "imminently dangerous situations," according to a statement issued by Street's Office of Communications.
Operation Safe Schools also provides a "greater commitment to the number of officers that can be assigned to the schools at any one time," according to Vincent Thompson, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia.
Now, forty police officers can be immediately available when violence occurs near school buildings.
University Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said that while Philadelphia Police handles juvenile crime that occurs on Penn's campus, the Penn Police have "great relationships with the principals and school district police officers" in the area.
Penn Police will assist both the University City High School and the Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander University of Pennsylvania Partnership School if, for example, there is a rumor of a fight at dismissal time.
The focus of Operation Safe Schools is to stop youth crime.
However, the root of the problem lies in the availability of guns, according to Lawrence Sherman, director of Penn's Jerry Lee Center for Criminology.
"Rather than focusing on the schools, the city needs to focus on police patrols to detect people carrying guns illegally, especially kids," Sherman said.
With a rise in juvenile crime around the city in the last couple of years, the Penn Police Department is doing its part to make sure that youth do not just "become another crime statistic," Rush said.
The Penn Police Department collaborates with the University's School of Social Work and holds monthly public safety meetings with local West Philadelphia students starting in elementary school.
Thompson feels that there is a false perception about Philadelphia schools and their students, though juvenile crime has recently increased.
"99.999 percent of all the school district's 200,000 students come to school every day and don't cause any problem. ... A miniscule, small percentage of students in every school cause problems, and generally these are not violent in nature," Thompson said.Comments powered by Disqus
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