Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2001

Board examining ways to keep Eudora schools safe

June 21, 2001

For many teenagers, the telephone is social glue, a way to find out who's doing what with whom this weekend.

But a school program could turn the coveted technology into a crime prevention tool at Eudora middle and high schools.

Two representatives from Crime Stoppers of Douglas County spoke to the school board earlier this month about the program that enlists adults and peers to encourage students to report crime and other problems at school.

The district is also waiting to see if it receives a grant that would provide a police officer for the district, although most of the officer's attention would focus on the high school and middle school.

Breck Marion, Kansas Crime Stoppers Association president-elect and Douglas County division board member, said the program was run for students and by students, although adults supervise. He said the program's priority should be to promote school pride and deter crime.

"I'm a substitute teacher and I look forward to going (to school) because I know I'm going to a friendly, congenial work environment," Breck said, praising the impact the program has had in Lawrence.

Usually schools set up a phone number answered by a Crime Stoppers representative or by an answering machine where students can leave anonymous crime tips and make arrangements to pick up their potential reward money.

Typical rewards for tips are about $5 or $10, but they can be as much as $500.

"(Eudora School Board Member Kenneth Massey) can tell you that the Lawrence Police Department lives and breathes by our tips," Shawnua Stover, former president of Crime Stoppers of Lawrence and Douglas County Kansas Crime Stoppers Association board member, said.

Stover and Breck recommend that schools set up a separate phone line without caller I.D., preferably answered by a person.

Massey said he carries a cellular phone for Crime Stoppers calls that is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But that isn't always possible in smaller schools.

"We're small enough that I don't think it works as well here, to be quite honest," Ron Traxson, Cheney High School principal and Crime Stoppers contact, said.

In some ways, Cheney, a south-central Kansas town, has a lot in common with Eudora.

The town of 2,500 sits 30 miles west of Wichita's growing upper-middle-class suburbs.

Although Eudora's population is slightly larger, with almost 2,000 more residents and a 4A high school in comparison to Cheney's 2A classification, the small-town atmosphere remains despite Johnson County growth.

Although Traxson tries to keep the tips anonymous, his telephone has caller I.D. Moreover, the small size of the town and school means he can recognize a lot of kids, even over the phone.

"Maybe we can create an outside number an outside person who wouldn't be in relation to the school," he said. "Then maybe we could establish more separation."

Traxson said the school spent a minimal amount of money on the program because many teenagers didn't come in expecting a reward. Instead, they sat down and talked with Traxson in person to share information and solve problems.

Those involved say, for Cheney and Eudora, safety measures like Crime Stoppers are primarily preventive rather than reactive.

Dale Sample was the principal at EMS last year and said he would accept an offer to be EHS principal for the coming year. Sample said he was in favor of Crime Stoppers and a grant that would provide the district, mainly the middle and high schools, with a police officer. The grant hasn't yet been finalized.

"I have no problem with doing something that makes school more safe and gives them a better opportunity to report crimes anonymously," Sample said. A hotline to the Kansas Highway Patrol, posted in the high school and middle school, provides similar opportunities for students to report and prevent crime, he said.

Sample thinks having a police officer at the schools would benefit students.

"It's not only a good security measure, but I think kids kind of relate to him," Sample said. "It becomes a situation where they don't become afraid of the police. This person would be seen in the halls and around the parking lots."

The grant would pay the officer's salary and benefits up to $125,000 over three years. The officer's responsibilities go beyond security and could range from teaching older students conflict resolution to conducting bicycle traffic safety classes with younger kids.

The schools and the police department would hire the officer in a joint effort.

Sample said he saw students' positive experiences with an officer at Seaman High School in Topeka, where he once taught.

"He was a welcome presence," he said. "They were a little leery there for a while, but after a month or so he became a welcome sight."

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