Originally created 09/19/04

How to curb youth crime

If your house is burning down, the first responders who rush to the scene to put out the blaze and provide emergency medical care are there to deal with a crisis. They are not long-term solutions to your house problems.

Emergency teams stay only for the time it takes to get the crisis under control - a crisis perhaps brought on by sloppy safety procedures or faulty wiring. After the emergency responders leave, homeowners should address the underlying problem, so no new crisis develops.

The same holds true for violence in schools.

Yet, that's not evident in Richmond County School Superintendent Charles Larke's comment concerning the 40 or so off-duty armed deputies being assigned to patrol four of the county's most violent high schools - Butler, Glenn Hills, Cross Creek and T.W. Josey.

"We're excited about this being a long-term solution for our problems," said Dr. Larke. "We're going to have safe schools, whatever it takes."

The sentiment about having safe schools is welcome, but turning high schools into what look like medium-security prisons is a short-term solution - first responders getting a crisis under control - not a permanent solution. At least it shouldn't be.

To be sure, we applaud the new task force put together by the school board, sheriff's office and the district attorney to crack down on crime and violence in the schools. It's about time.

We particularly appreciate Sheriff Ronnie Strength's no-nonsense approach. "We're not in the mediating business," he said. "(A)ny student, juvenile or adult will be taken into custody, no questions asked, if the law is violated. We will be working on state law and county ordinance, not school board policy. We'll be very aggressive on this."

That makes sense. It's never been clear to us why students who engage in crimes in school often are treated less harshly than if they do those same things off campus. If anything, they ought to be treated more harshly, for disrupting the education and possibly endangering the safety of their schoolmates.

Putting them through a school tribunal where they're suspended or sometimes expelled doesn't impress thugs.

In contrast, if they're caught committing offenses off campus, they're promptly sent to a juvenile detention center, and criminal charges are filed against them. That's more like it.

Still, the long-term solution to school violence begins with a recognition that such problems are not of the schools' making. Schools simply are where the problems show up. The problems originate in the homes and neighborhoods where the young thugs live - the consequence of parental neglect.

Unsupervised children grow up with few or no values and virtually no sense of connection with the broader community. They tend to get into trouble, or join gangs and get into worse trouble.

What's needed to get these kids back on track - and armed law-enforcers out of the schools - is for parents to take responsibility not only for their offspring, but for their communities. Sheriff's deputies and assistant DAs are helpful in a crisis, but they cannot be government nannies.

Parents need to band together to improve their neighborhoods and cooperate with one another in looking after the kids. They can start with neighborhood watches. Then they can reach out to social agencies and institutions - churches, PTAs, Safe Streets Inc., Blacks Against Black Crime Inc., etc. - that exist to help communities become more safe, civil, livable and proud.

There's plenty of help out there for parents if they'll just use it. Schools can't do the whole job by themselves. Kids are in school for only about 40 hours a week; the other 128 hours, they're their parents' responsibility.

If parents won't do their job, they shouldn't complain to the schools if Junior ends up in a cell block.


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