No City Council opposition surfaces to placing police in schools

Posted: April 12, 2011

The concept of placing armed police officers in schools, similar to a 2004 proposal that stalled in City Hall, found no opposition Monday as City Council members quizzed Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

Saying he was aware of controversy around such a move, Ramsey nevertheless said, "I personally feel that the time has come for this to occur."

Ramsey, testifying before Council as part of annual budget hearings, said the idea was still in the discussion stages. No numbers of officers have been mentioned nor cost to the department's proposed $535 million 2011-12 budget.

After the hearing, Everett Gillison, the city's deputy mayor for public safety, emphasized that nothing was imminent.

"Nobody's putting cops in schools next week," said Gillison, who noted that 78 officers are currently assigned to the Philadelphia School District. Those armed officers - who spend most of their shifts patrolling outside school buildings - are either detailed to specific schools or floated among several sites.

The scenario offered by Ramsey would place officers inside the schools.

"We're talking to the various parties about what would be the appropriate role for the police to play in schools," Gillison said.

Ramsey stressed that any officers assigned to schools would be carefully chosen. Those officers would not be looking "to lock up kids," Ramsey said. Instead, they would look to be mentors, expected to interact with students in cooperation with the principal.

Then-Mayor John F. Street in 2004 blocked a plan by schools chief executive Paul Vallas to place officers in high schools.

"I'm for whatever it takes to keep kids safe and keep kids in school," said Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, a former elementary teacher who would like to see probation and parole officers involved with schools.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. told Ramsey he would not want police to be in the schools forever.

"There needs to be an exit strategy, as opposed to an occupying force," said Jones, who recalled armed officers patrolling Overbrook High School when he was there in the 1970s. "I don't know if we want to be there forever."

Budget constraints led to the phasing-out of police in schools in the 1980s.

The School District employs 635 full- and part-time members of its own security force, whose officers are unarmed but can detain crime suspects until city police respond.

"What we're currently doing is simply not working," Ramsey said, citing a weeklong Inquirer series that documented an epidemic of violence in the city schools and showed how the administration has not been able to solve the problem. "There are some schools right now being run by gang members."


Contact staff writer Jeff Shields at 215-854-4565 or jshields@phillynews.com.

 

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