Wednesday, February 18, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has approved a security plan for Ballou High School that would include armed police officers patrolling inside the building, X-ray machines to inspect all bags and packages, and secure doors that would remain locked except in an emergency.

The plan, prepared by Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and released yesterday at the mayor’s weekly news briefing, comes in response to the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of James Richardson in the cafeteria at Ballou High School. Another student has been charged in the slaying.

“Our concept as we move forward will be to individually assess the security needs of our schools on a case-by-case basis and design and implement security plans that will work and will fit with each school,” Mr. Williams said. “Now we’re starting with Ballou, but we’re not stopping after Ballou.”

The plan, which Mr. Williams described as “custom-designed” for the Southeast high school of 1,097 students, will include up to 30 police officers and security guards patrolling the building in a combination of fixed and roving patrols during school days. The 24 security guards, six police officers and one school investigator called for in the plan will be under the command of a police sergeant.

Two police resource officers already are stationed at Ballou, and Chief Ramsey said four other officers will be drawn from some of the department’s youth programs.

Previously, 10 to 12 security guards and two police resource officers were assigned to Ballou.

“This is only until we’ve re-established control of the school and we’ve created a safe environment,” Chief Ramsey said.

“This is not something we’re proposing to maintain over the long term, but it is a template that can be used at other schools that have similar problems to Ballou.”

Chief Ramsey said police will complete initial security assessments at the District’s 14 other high schools within 30 days to get a better idea of how many officers will be needed. He said he would like to see legislation allowing police officers to work part time in the schools, in addition to their regular shifts, a proposal the mayor said he would support.

Other changes at Ballou will include the purchase of four metal detectors, three X-ray machines, a computer system with a photo-ID database that will include student schedules and disciplinary infractions. Images from the school’s 53 surveillance cameras also will be fed to the police department’s Joint Operations Command Center.

Students will enter the school through one main doorway, and barricades will be erected to prevent them from going around security equipment. Most of the school’s 120 entry points will be outfitted with delay-egress doors, which were approved by the fire department and will be locked at all times except in the event of an emergency.

Mr. Williams said yesterday he would also support authorities conducting random locker checks.

D.C. Council member Sandy Allen said she has not been able to fully review the plan, but that any step toward ensuring security at the school was a step forward.

“I know there are people who are concerned about police being in the school. Until we have the other measures in place — the cameras, the doors locked — we have to use what is available right now,” said Ms. Allen, a Democrat from Ward 8, where Ballou is located. “We don’t want police there forever.”

The police chief’s report also criticized school officials who, it says, “have not chosen to strictly enforce standards of conduct,” including no-tolerance policies regarding weapons or drugs in school, students who arrive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and lesser offenses such as carrying portable stereos and book bags, and wearing coats inside during the day.

The report said students currently “have a great deal of freedom” to roam hallways during classes, and there is virtually no accounting for temporary identification cards or visitors’ passes, which makes it easy for unauthorized persons to gain access to the building.

Chief Ramsey offered no timeline for how long the stepped-up police presence will be in place at Ballou, and said he has not yet completed a long-term maintenance plan.

He also said a cost analysis has not been completed because the plan first had to be approved by the mayor.

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