Security concerns Modesto City Schools board

District to look into hiring campus guards

naustin@modbee.comJuly 13, 2013 

Education Reporter

A Modesto Police Department school resource officer surveys the quad area at Modesto High School earlier this year.

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  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
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    On Twitter: @nanaustin
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

— The Modesto City Schools board will talk campus security at its next meeting, looking at hiring school guards or even forming a school security force.

The board voted unanimously last week to hire Modesto police school resource officers for the coming school year, a partnership that dates to 1990. The $448,000 contract provides four officers, split between the district's seven high schools, continuation school and four junior highs.

At the meeting, board member Steve Grenbeaux called the police contract "hopefully a stopgap measure," announcing, "We will be looking at providing our own security and having our own police department."

Administrators and other board members later downplayed the idea of a security force, saying the discussion will be about hiring security guards.

But Grenbeaux said he asked that information be brought to the board on having a school security force as well. "We need to look at every avenue and option to keep our kids safe," he said. He voted for the police contract, but after last year's school shootings in Newtown, Conn., he has concerns, he said.

"Can we do it better? Can we do it cheaper? We'd be remiss in our duties if we didn't look at every option to keep our kids safe," Grenbeaux said.

Modesto City Schools serves about 30,000 students. The Stockton Unified School District, with 37,000 students, has had its own police department since 1985. The Stockton Unified School District Police Department includes a chief, one lieutenant, three sergeants, two corporals, 14 officers, one reserve officer, four dispatchers, one part-time dispatcher and a fingerprint clerk. The department runs 24-7 and helps city police and deputies with gang issues, according to its website and district police Chief Jim West.

Planning ahead

Superintendent Pam Able said she is not looking at creating a Modesto City Schools police force, but the district is considering hiring its own security guards.

"Sheriff (Adam) Christianson pulled his deputies that were acting as school resource officers from the school sites and put them back on patrol. Our exploration into having our own security guards was a proactive move, in the event that the Police Department made the same decision," Able said.

"We value our longtime relationship with MPD, but in light of potential budget cuts, we need to make sure we had an alternative plan."

Chief Business Official Julie Chapin is looking into the costs for all options for the district. Chapin said it's too soon for her to have estimates of salary, equipment and training costs.

"The entire security proposal is still in the infancy stages of research. There are two areas that are needing to be addressed: student attendance days and security for nights, weekends and holiday coverage," Chapin said via email.

Board member Sue Zwahlen said she's keeping an open mind ahead of the July 29 meeting, "but I would have to look long and hard at any change."

She said teens tell her they feel safe on Modesto campuses. "Those officers do help create that atmosphere," she said. Hiring school security guards, she added, would be "something completely different."

Board member Rubén Villalobos said he is wary of the legal issues surrounding hiring private guards and the cost of creating a district force. "(A force) is not something I'd be in favor of. That's just another layer of administration," he said.

Private guards would not have the authority to handle many issues, Villalobos said. "We'd just be calling the cops anyway. Whereas now, we have an officer with an office and a place right on campus."

Modesto police bring something extra, he said. "They're great, positive role models at the schools, at sporting events, after school."

Modesto police Sgt. Ivan Valencia said the department's school resource officers get extra training to work with the schools, including active shooter scenarios. They also work behind the scenes in ways a security guard could not.

"We're directly tied to our dispatch center," he said, saving precious seconds over a 911 call.

The officers also sit in morning briefings, hearing of potential problems with gangs, graffiti and juvenile suspects. "They go through the activity logs, they can recognize the names of kids at their schools," Valencia said. That helps in staying current on young offenders, but also in knowing which kids have major problems at home.

"Private security doesn't have the access we do," he said. Officers also provide some student counseling and referrals as needed, and help educate students on safety topics.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter @nanaustin, or at www.modbee.com/education.


CRIME ON CAMPUS

Here are statistics on reported crimes at public elementary, middle and high schools in the United States:

POLICE CASES: Some 40 percent of schools reported at least one violent incident to the police in 2009-10.

WEAPONS: About 5 percent of high schoolers said they brought weapons to school in the past month in 2011. About 8 percent said they were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.

WORST CRIME: Serious violence, including rape and aggravated assault, has remained steady for 20 years at about five reports per 1,000 students.

TOTAL CRIME: In 2010-11, students 12 to 18 experienced about 1.2 million crimes and 11 were killed. The numbers of violent crimes and thefts has dropped from 1 in 5 students in 1992 to 1 in 20 students in 2011.

SECURITY: Some 28 percent of schools had armed security staff in 2009-10. Safety measures in schools in 2011 include security cameras (61 percent); faculty and staff badges (63 percent); student badges or IDs (7 percent); and student uniforms (19 percent).

Sources: Indicators of School Crime and Safety, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics

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