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Hancock police get $76,000 school grant

September 02, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

HANCOCK - The Hancock Police Department has received a $76,000 federal grant to defuse racial and social tensions at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, the town's police chief said.

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The grant, one of two awarded in Maryland by the Justice Department, will allow the police and school to provide after-school programs and other initiatives designed to break down stereotypes and prevent violence among rival cliques.

Hancock Police Chief Donald R. Gossage said students identifying with athletes, the Ku Klux Klan, the Gothic lifestyle and others have clashed in school and around town.

He noted the similarities between Hancock and communities where school shootings have erupted in recent years.

Hancock is a rural community where hunting is a popular sport and youths have easy access to guns, Gossage said. It also is isolated, with residents living far from many county services.

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"This school is kind of similar to Columbine," Gossage said.

Two students went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., on April 20, killing 13 people before taking their own lives.

Gossage said police found anarchist materials, devil-worship literature and other disturbing symbols in the homes of three students whose rooms were searched recently. Ku Klux Klan pamphlets have been distributed at Hancock Middle-Senior High School.

"Even small communities like ours are not immune to those things," he said.

Robert "Bo" Myers, the school's principal, said the school has had few fights or other violent incidents. But he said in the aftermath of Columbine, school administrators have a heightened sensitivity.

"You'll have the separation, and sometimes there'll be the name-calling," he said. "That's the thing with hate groups or anti-social groups. They don't tend to be overt. They tend to be covert. That's how they can exist."

The police requested almost $99,000 from the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The Justice Department awarded about four-fifths of that amount.

The money will be used for overtime pay for teachers and police, computer equipment and training programs.

The grant did not include money the police had sought to expand Hancock Middle-Senior High School's Project Adventure program.

The program, which the school began in 1993, promotes teamwork and problem-solving.

Gossage wanted money to pay for camping trips for students who identify with different groups that are hostile to one another. The idea is to get students who do not know one another to work together toward a common goal.

"It is similar to whitewater rafting trips and other activity the police have sponsored in the past," Gossage said.

"It's proved to be successful," he said.

Gossage said he plans to seek additional funding next year after the police and school have collected preliminary data and set up tutoring and mentoring programs after school and on weekends.

A board of directors, which will oversee implementation of the grant, will include Gossage, Myers, a Hagerstown Community College professor, a member of the community and Allen Murphy, a high school junior.

Even without the grant program, Gossage said he has seen positive results from the relationship between the school and police. Most students, for example, have rejected recruiting efforts by the Ku Klux Klan, he said.

Murphy, 16, vice president of the police-sponsored Hancock Middle-Senior High Explorers, said racial tensions and other hatreds are not out of control.

"It's a few bad apples," he said. "It's trying to make the younger kids aware."

Murphy, who is Mayor Daniel A. Murphy's son, said some students lack perspective because the town is nearly all white.

"There's not really a lot of exposure to other groups," he said. "The older kids really need to set an example."

Unless ordered by the court, participation in the program will be voluntary. But Gossage said that about 50 "at-risk" youths voluntarily participated in a school-sponsored summer program this year.

"I think we can probably be able to reach 90 percent of the kids we want to reach," he said.

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