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Arrest numbers higher in county's schools

October 09, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

South Hagerstown High School topped Washington County's list of schools with the most arrests in the 2002-03 school year, according to data released by the Hagerstown Police Department and other county police agencies.

But as the only school in Washington County that had a police officer stationed there last year, South High's numbers shouldn't scare people, police and the school's principal said.

"I don't think that crime increased. In fact, my guess would be that crime went down," South's Principal Michael Shockey said this week.

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South High participated in the Student Resource Officer program, which placed a police officer inside the school five days a week. Other schools, like any resident or business, must call police for them to respond.

The current grant for the program will last for three years.

According to Hagerstown City Police statistics, officers arrested and charged 42 individuals with criminal offenses at South High between September 2002 and June 2003. Of those, 31 arrests were made by Hagerstown Police Officer Steve Cromer, the school's resource officer. The charges included assault, disturbing school activities, malicious destruction of property, theft and marijuana possession.

The number of arrests last year more than tripled from the 2001-02 school year, when police recorded 13 arrests at South High.

In addition to the number of arrests made at the school, the number of police calls for service increased from 93 in 2001-02 to 115 in 2002-03. A call for service is any time an officer officially is called for an incident, which can include noncriminal acts such as traffic accidents.

Although both arrests and calls for service increased at South High, that doesn't necessarily mean the school became more violent, said Hagerstown Police Lt. Margaret Kline, who is Cromer's supervisor.

"It's hard to say because we don't have a baseline to actually look at," Kline said. She said the school may have made more police calls for service because the officer was there instead of trying to handle the problem themselves.

Total police calls for service at all county schools increased from 552 to 666 between the 2001-02 and 2003-03 school years. Arrests increased over the same time period from 62 to 128. Most of the increase was logged at North and South high schools.

North High Principal Robert "Bo" Myers attributed the increased arrests at his school to his policy of calling police whenever a criminal activity occurs, regardless of whether it is inside the school. The 2002-03 year was his first at North.

North High enlisted a police officer at the school this year, and Myers and Shockey both praised the program.

Shockey said he has seen a change in attitude among students in the first year with an officer inside the school.

"I see a very strong culture supporting issues of good character among students. The good kids are stepping up" to work with police, Shockey said.

Myers said he and Shockey have been speaking with school administrators about extending the program beyond the end of the grant.

"This is just a great program that ultimately is going to help kids be successful because they're going to make fewer bad choices," Myers said.

Mike Harshman, 62, is a parent of a student at South High and is the president of the parent-teacher group there. He said since the program began, no parents have complained to him.

As far as students are concerned, he said having an officer there is for the better.

"If you walk out in the halls, the kids are laughing and joking with the officers," Harshman said. "I don't want to see it ever go away."

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