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Schools Breeding Violence, Officers Tell Small Crowd at Forum


Nov. 5, 2006 — Students carrying guns and knives and displaying aggressive behavior are helping to turn local schools into breeding grounds for violence, a police official said Saturday evening during a forum on St. Thomas.
"These are the things that have been plaguing our community for a long time," said Deputy Chief Elvin Fahie. "I've been a part of the V.I. Police Department for 21 years now, and I've seen so many bodies — of young males especially — bleeding on the streets, or young people strung out on drugs. I'm tired now, and I'm weary, and I'm asking for everyone's help in solving the problem."
Speaking to a group of about 25 local residents, educators and students, Fahie said the number of violent acts occurring in the schools, coupled with a lack of community involvement and education-outreach initiatives, make him "fearful" the territory will soon play host to an incident akin to the Columbine massacre.
Throughout the event, held at the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School, Fahie and other officers spoke candidly. They painted a vivid — and sometimes graphic — picture of local school campuses, which they said are rife with problems such as teen pregnancy, drug use and weapons. A lack of cooperation from education officials compounds the problem, Fahie said, insisting that weapons are often confiscated on campuses without being reported to the police department.
"There is also at least one person in every scenario who knows the individuals coming to school and committing the violent acts," he said. "We need to get that information. We're being too silent about the things that are too dangerous."
Outside the school environment, students are faced with absent parents, peer pressure and a shortage of outreach programs that teach students "right from wrong," officers said. Several students speaking during the event underscored these points by telling the small crowd that they are "sometimes scared of going to school," and, until recently, did not know that getting into fights or having "sex with older men" were considered crimes.
Officials called Saturday's forum to give community members, along with various government and industry representatives, a chance to brainstorm and come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with school violence, Fahie said. Such an initiative should, above all, be enforceable, he stressed, and should have a "beginning, middle and end" when it comes to dealing with students displaying aggressive behavior or engaging in violent acts.
However, Fahie's mission was not accomplished Saturday, as only a handful of residents attended the event — barely enough to fill the first two rows of the BCB auditorium. While Fahie said he was disappointed — after distributing fliers about the event to school principals and advertising on local radio programs — he said the low turnout was "expected."
Instead of spending time speaking about the absence of various community members, Fahie and the other officers discussed possible solutions and encouraged parents and teachers to get more involved.
Various programs sponsored by the VIPD's School Security Bureau teach students about all aspects of the law, a topic addressed by Officer Roy Chesterfield, founder of "The Law and You" program, along with Lt. Randolph DeSuza.
The students who spoke Saturday evening said they had all become involved in Chesterfield's program, and advocated that it be brought to all schools throughout the territory. "All of us need to be concerned about what's going on in the schools," Chesterfield said, adding that students are now "being exposed to different things," and are "actively challenging adults" and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
"The Law and You" program, he said, works to address the ideas left out of the school curriculum and teach students "how to become productive citizens within society."
Chesterfield said he would look into expanding the program into other venues. He currently works with students at Charlotte Amalie High School. DeSuza said he is working with students on the elementary and junior high school levels, spreading the message for "youth to stay in school and get a proper education."
"Getting involved with these kinds of programs can certainly help," Chesterfield said. "And it gives kids something to do, teaches them to think before they act."
Parents should take a more active role in their children's lives, along with the lives of youth throughout the territory, said LaVelle Campbell, a student monitor at CAHS: "If you see some young men, for example, sitting on the street corner, up to no good, talk to them and tell them that what they're doing is wrong. That's one great way of helping."
Community members should continue to focus on implementing a "synchronized" plan that works with students and parents on all levels, Fahie said.
"There must be no revolving door, no exit for these students who are committing violent acts, or else they will just come back and do it again," he said. "We have to look at what we're trying to prevent, and learn how to prevent it. Otherwise, our children will continue to fall right through the cracks."
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