- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The shooting Monday morning at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington drew immediate reaction from all quarters — and well it should. Not only did one of two young victims die, but the shooting happened inside the school. Mayor Tony Williams made an unprecedented decision and postponed his State of the District address, which had been scheduled for last evening, so that city leaders could meet with the Ballou community. The mayor made the right call because he and other officials must now take a hard look at school security.

The shooting was yet another wake-up call, leading officials to promise more money and other resources to stem school-related violence. But before authorities begin pouring resources into school-security coffers, they need to ask themselves and parents some tough questions.

Chief among those questions: What school-security measures are already in place and are they effective? For example, most D.C. public high schools already have crime-prevention tools at their disposal, including metal detectors, security guards and electronic surveillance. Yet, parents and students complain that guards often do not always pay full time and attention to students’ comings and goings. The school system also has a Youth Gang Task Force, which tries to mediate disputes, and it has a Student Intervention Services Branch, whose main focuses are truancy, conflict resolutions and parental support programs.

In the short term, these programs should stay in place. In the long term, however, authorities must review all programs and funding mechanisms to determine whether they produce the desired results. Indeed, the gang task force was well aware that youths from two distinct neighborhoods were involved in a protracted dispute that led to the Ballou shooting. In fact, the task force had scheduled a meeting with youths the very day that the Ballou student was killed. Similarly, the task force was aware of a dispute last fall involving youths at another high school in Southeast and, as in the Ballou shooting, a student-athlete was killed. Also, like most other high schools, there are scores of doors around the sprawling Ballou campus. As Police Chief Chuck Ramsey said yesterday, it is practically impossible to use manpower to cover all exits and entryways.

So, before authorities begin divvying up additional resources, they need to determine what does and does not work, and fund effective programs accordingly. As parents and students have said, they do not want schools that are mini-jails; they want policies that lead to secure learning environments for young people.

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