COLUMBIA - Charleston County Sheriff's Deputy John Reidenbach says students are safer these days than when he started patrolling school hallways nearly 30 years ago.
"They're as safe as we can make them," says Deputy Reidenbach, who serves as the Charleston County School District's public safety director. "But the bottom line is, we're not immune to anything."
Highlights from the annual South Carolina School Crime Incident Report released Wednesday show that crime in public schools has decreased for the first time in a decade.
State Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum says better security, tougher discipline policies and community support have helped bring about the drop in the past year.
"We have resource officers in all junior high and high schools and many school districts have adopted the no-tolerance rule," Ms. Tenenbaum said. "This is now positive that we are starting a trend, we hope, of seeing the numbers decline."
While the Education Department will release its entire report later this summer, it said handgun and firearm violations fell to 51 incidents in the 2001-02 school year, compared with 58 a year earlier. It's the lowest level since data collections began 11 years ago and the second-straight year of decline. The figure has been as high as 232 in the 1993-94 school year.
"We will not be satisfied until no handguns or firearms are at school, but we can take some appreciation in the fact that the numbers are going down," Ms. Tenenbaum said.
There were declines in 17 of the 29 categories of incidents this past school year, including simple assault that fell to 3,851, compared with 3,972. Schools average about 3.5 unlawful physical attacks per school a year, the most of any category.
Berkeley, Horry and Marlboro school districts each reported more than 200 simple assaults.
The second largest offense, school disturbance, dropped to 2,605 from 2,649 a year earlier. The vast majority were disorderly conduct, but the category also includes bomb threats, false fire alarms and loitering.
"The deterrence is there with the officers in the schools," Deputy Reidenbach said. "It's just like with an old beat cop standing on the street. Chances are nothing is going to happen as long as he's standing there."