Drugs Bring Police to East Valley High Schools

Drugs Bring Police to East Valley High Schools
Posted by FoM on May 30, 2000 at 08:04:19 PT
By Heather Romero, The Arizona Republic
Source: Arizona Central
A boy caught selling marijuana in the hallway of a Chandler school. A Tempe teenager with a gun and ammunition arrested in the middle of class. A shooting threat scrawled in a Mesa school's bathroom. These were among the more high-profile police calls to East Valley high schools this year, but they are hardly isolated incidents. 
An Arizona Republic analysis of the 4,905 calls requesting police help at the area's 18 high schools over the past two years found that officers responded to 234 drug-related calls, 27 calls involving weapons violations and at least 59 school threats. The sheer number of police responses to schools - some made more calls for help than school days - can be alarming. But police and school officials caution against becoming too alarmed. "I'd be worried if we did not have calls at schools," said Detective Jose Martinez, a Mesa police spokesman. "It's more of a positive to have these calls than to not have any feedback and then have something major happen." He said that the overwhelming majority of police calls at schools are routine, such as graffiti, truancy or fights. Educators interviewed for this story were split on which was the biggest problem facing today's schools - drugs or violence. "Drugs are prevalent and every year the age gets younger as far as accessibility," Gilbert Unified School Superintendent Walter Delecki said. "I think there's more drugs in schools now." Chandler's assistant superintendent, Fred Coates, agreed, but said the parents are still much more concerned about the national plague of school violence. "Parents are aware of drugs, but they think "my child can control that by saying no,' " he said. "They can't control someone being violent." The 27 cases where guns and knives were found actually represents a decrease from the early- to mid-1990s. That decrease is attributed largely to zero-tolerance policies. Tempe had only one gun incident this past year, a student at Marcos de Niza High School who was arrested after he brought a gun and bullets to school, saying he needed it for protection from another student. In Mesa, the school board expelled one student for having a gun on campus this year and five others for making school threats. Mesa's Mountain View High counselor Linda Somo said students feel safe at school. "What they see the most are students using drugs or who have possession of drugs," Somo said. "The sad part of it is 90 percent of them don't want any part of it, but they also feel like they can't turn their peers in. I wish that could somehow change." In 1998, there were 120 incidents of students being caught with drugs in East Valley high schools. In 1999, there were 114. Students throughout the East Valley were found at school with illegal drugs, prescription medications and alcohol. Most were caught with drugs in small amounts, most often a marijuana cigarette, considered by police to be only for personal use. But there are exceptions. At Tempe's McClintock High, school officials caught a boy in October with a sandwich-size bag of marijuana, a pouch with several different prescription pain relievers and $144 in cash. Police and school officials said this case illustrates how schools reflect the world. "No matter how hard we try, it's going to be there," Mountain View's Somo said. "As long as it is part of our society, it's going to be on our campuses." Frank Ritz, 18, who graduated from Mesa High this month, said drugs are so commonplace at school that most students don't even perceive them as a problem. He said marijuana, Ecstasy and acid can be easily obtained. School districts have taken steps to combat the problem. They have allowed undercover officers to come onto campus posing as students to buy drugs. They've cracked down on the penalties for getting caught with drugs on campus. In most districts, the first drug offense warrants a five-day suspension and the second can carry a two-semester suspension. "I'd say that's a pretty strong message that drugs don't belong here," Dobson High Principal Linda Rottman said. Rottman's school in southwest Mesa installed security cameras last year that helped crack down on students who would gather in back ball fields to smoke pot. District officials eventually plan to install them in all Mesa high schools. "The cameras are really about the protection of our own children," Rottman said. "There's a much greater threat that comes from off campus than comes from on campus." Another solution for Dobson is its school resource officer, Ed Wessing. Most East Valley high schools also have a police officer assigned to patrol the school and surrounding neighborhood. Wessing has been assigned to Dobson for the past two years. He made 22 drug arrests at the school this school year but said the majority of his time is not spent investigating crime. "The biggest part is building a rapport with the students, that's the biggest deterrent," he said. Mesa's Westwood High recorded the most calls, with 462 total for 1998 and 1999. Of larger high schools, Tempe Union's Desert Vista in Phoenix had the least, with 84 in those two years. Violent crimes are rare, but they do happen. In Chandler in February 1998, a student was stabbed at lunchtime over a gang-related fight. In Tempe, a 16-year-old Marcos de Niza student was arrested in February 1998 after he slammed a teacher against a wall when told to go to the office for swearing. In January 1999, another student at Marcos de Niza fatally shot himself in the parking lot during the middle of day. Despite such incidents, many educators and police agree that schools are still among the safest places students can be. "There's more potential for violence because, unfortunately, there's more potential for violence in society," said Dobson's Rottman. "But I think the campuses are safer now." Heather Romero can be reached via e-mail at: heather.romero or at (602) 444-7946. Published: May 30, 2000Copyright 2000, Arizona CentralCannabisNews Articles On Schools:
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by Dan Hillman on May 30, 2000 at 14:21:45 PT
Firemen starting fires?
Drugs "bring" police to these schools, eh? I wonder what "brings" drugs to the schools. Could it be those same police? Naaaaaahhhhhh....
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: