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School violence may not really be on the rise
Posted May 14, 2008


SMALL SCHOOL, BIG WORRIES

A gunshot can be heard across campus. No one is sure whether the sound is coming from on campus or from a distance. The students commuting to school have no idea what might be happening at school. A problem has occurred.

The University of La Verne decided to heighten its security measures recently by adding the 3N emergency notification system. In case of an emergency, a notification will be sent to the phones of students, faculty and staff to warn them about the danger on campus so they can protect themselves from danger.

“In the history of La Verne since 1891 we haven’t had to do this,” Sharon K. Davis, University of La Verne sociology and psychology department chairwoman.

In light of the recent school crimes that have taken place at the university level like at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois Univesity, ULV Director of Campus Security Michael Nunez thought the system would be a good idea. Since there are students who live on campus and hundreds more who commute to school everyday, it would be essential to their safety to let them know about any dangerous activity on campus.

“I think schools are trying to be more safe, which is great,” ULV marriage and family therapist trainee Vanessa Ioriatti said.

Colleges are not the only place where school violence happens. It starts in elementary school and continues through and high school and into the post-secondary school system.

VIOLENCE ON THE DECLINE

Although more school-related crimes are being televised, the rate of school violence has been decreasing. The U.S. Department of Education’s report “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007” reported the number of homicides on school property has decreased from 34 homicides in 1992 to 14 homicides last year. These statistics are based on children between the ages of 5 and 18.

The two more commonly known incidents of violence on school property are the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Both incidents received heavy media coverage. Some of the coverage went on for days, leaving imprints and images in the minds of viewers. These negative images have led schools to increase security on campuses.

“The visuals can be very scary,” ULV doctor of psychology therapist trainee Melissa Murren said.

Since these incidents schools have added metal detectors, extra security guards and this new emergency notification system.

“I think it’s good to take it seriously, but their responses should be a measured response,” Thomas W. Ward, University of Southern California expert in youth violence and gangs, globalization of gangs and gang intervention and prevention.

Although these events create attention, it does not mean that school violence is a major concern. One of the reasons why school shootings receive continued coverage is that they are such rare events.

More common crimes on campuses are the non-fatal ones such as robbery and bullying, but they are not as serious, so they receive less media attention.

STOP THE FEAR AND START LIVING

We are living in a society of fear, Davis said.

“Fear is an emotion that a lot of us say we don’t like,” Davis added.

According to “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2007,” school related homicides are at the lowest they have been since the 2000-2001 school year. Yet schools are continuing to buy new security systems and find new security measures for a crime that rarely happens on school campuses. In the 2004-2005 school year there were 1,534 homicides for children between the ages of 5 and 18, with only 21 of the homicides taking place on school property.

“I don’t think violence in school is that big a problem,” said Ward.

“Each school-based attack has had a tremendous and lasting effect on the school in which it occurred, the surrounding community, and the nation as a whole,” according to “The Final Report and Findings of Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States” provided by U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education.

The report also says that this leads to increased fear in students, parents and school officials. School is meant to be a safe zone where students can learn and have fun, but when people are fearful it disturbs the learning process.

As more coverage is given to these crimes, people become more fearful and try new methods to create safety.

Ioriatti said she thinks the security measures can also cause fear in people. It eventually comes to a point where people no longer feel safe unless they have these safety features in their presence.

The media also plays a role in creating this society of fear.

ULV Professor of Psychology Valerie Jordan believes that broadcast media plays an essential role in keeping the community fearful.

The coverage for Columbine and Virginia Tech continued for days, showing images of what happened and telling the stories of those who were murdered. Continued viewing of this provided fear for the nation.

According to “Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates,” a report by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education, “However, highly publicized school shootings have created uncertainty about the safety and security of this country’s schools and generated fear that an attack might occur in any school, in any community.”

There is such a concept as copycat behavior, also known as collective behavior, in which people will do something they see others doing that they would not normally do. The continued viewing of violence on television could cause someone to decide to mimic the same act.

“If it’s out there, we become more aware of it and act on it,” Davis said.

This could cause fear because no one knows who is capable of committing such a crime. It keeps people on edge wondering if their school will be the next target.

“Unless it goes the other way around, we create a culture of fear,” Murren said.

MEASURING REACTIONS

Whenever a school is threatened from either the inside or outside, schools tend to take that next step to increase security. Sometimes just the fear tof what might happen is enough.

This year at Etiwanda High School, a student circulated a letter threatening the lives of class seniors on campus. It turned out to be a senior prank but police were still called for extra protection and survey the situation.

Carlos Illescas believes that we are not overreacting, but rather that we are being made more aware of the events around us and reacting to what know. Illescas is a reporter for the Denver Post who covered the Columbine shootings.

The more aware we are, the more conscious we are of the violence and crime that exists. That leads to schools people to seek out new ways to protect ourselves.

“We want to prevent something like that from happening,” Jordan said.

Everyone does not share that view of schools taking too many precautions. Yridiana Rodriguez, a ULV marriage and family therapist trainee, thinks schools are not taking enough measures to protect students.

A senior at Etiwanda High School, Anita Hubbard, thinks the school could have done more to keep the students safe. The school should have shut down, she said.

“I think in some cases schools have over reacted and other cases schools have under reacted,” Ward said.

IGNORE THE HYPE AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE REAL PROBLEM

The real concern is not about the fatal crimes that happen on campus, but the nonfatal crimes that happen.

In the cases of the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, the killers were outsiders who were teased and bullied by fellow classmates.

According to “Education Statistics Quarterly: Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2003” provided by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2001 for children between the ages of 12 and 14, 47 out of 1,000 students were victims of theft while only seven out of 1,000 were victims of serious crimes.

Also in the same year, eight out of 25 students were victims of bullying.

Davis believes the only way to further decrease school violence is to pay more attention to the students.

Students who act out violently tend to shy away from people and keep to themselves. The problem is that most people do not notice the problem until it is too late.

“Is that not a sign of distress,” Davis said.

Ward agrees saying that these students usually come from troubled backgrounds that include physical and sexual abuse, absent parents, psychological problems and/or mental problems.

Another problem is also hormonal changes in high school and middle school, Ward said. Students feel the need to be a part of a group and fit in with the other students on campus. When they do not fit in or are exiled by their peers, consequences like school shootings happen.

Although it is important to pay attention to these signs, it is also important not to judge people if they exhibit these characteristics. Everyone who is shy or comes from a troubled background is not going to go on a shooting spree at a school.

It is also important to remember that a school is still a place for learning.

As education budgets are slashed nationwide, schools have less money to buy books and supplies for students to use.

The money that is used toward security could be used for more practical uses, like books. Education is a problem in the United States. There is still high school students who cannot pass the High School Exit Exam, which is a test based on eighth grade knowledge.

There are also no enough books for students in some schools so they have to share, while other books are just outdated. It is coming to the point where schools are choosing between school safety and school education.

“We’re digging ourselves an educational hole in a sense,” Davis said.

THE VERDICT: ARE WE OVERREACTING?

The University of La Verne updated its security system by adding the emergency notification system. Although the university does not have a history of violent crimes, the move was made for safety reasons. It may appear that the university is overreacting to a problem that may never occur.

Nunez said it is better to be safe then unprepared. The safety of the students and staff is the most important concern.

“We have an obligation to make sure that they’re kept informed in a timely matter regarding incidents that could cause injury to them and other staff members,” Nunez said.

Sher Porter can be reached at sporter4@ulv.edu.