SCHOOL OFFICER PROGRAM
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
In 1994, the Toledo Police Department began efforts to make the transition from using traditional policing methods to employing community policing strategies to solve the problems facing our city. As with all of America, violence in schools was a major issue that needed to be addressed by the use of new and innovative ideas. Our department established the School Officer Program, Police Probation Team, and the Gang Unit to work together to attack this problem in the most comprehensive way possible. The combined effort of these three units has given our department the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many young people in our city.
The Toledo Police Department placed one full-time police officer in each of the nineteen junior and senior high schools in the city. The goal of the School Officer Program is to make our schools safe for all students by reducing criminal activity by using both prevention and enforcement strategies.
The Police Probation Team was developed as a means to divert first time juvenile offenders from the court system. The team is composed of a Toledo Police Officer, a juvenile probation officer, and a family counselor.
After an officer charges a juvenile with a status offense or a misdemeanor, the team becomes involved with the juvenile. The team then schedules an assessment hearing with the youth and his or her parent. The team, the youth, and his or her parent develop a contract that requires: community service, restitution, school attendance and/or counseling. No charge appears on the juvenile's record if all of the terms of the contract are met.
The last segment of our program to reduce youth crime is the Gang Unit. It is staffed by a lieutenant and seven detectives, who investigate all gang related crimes. The unit's goals are: reduce the amount of gang activity, identify gangs and gang members, educate our community about gangs, and share intelligence with other police officers to assist them in their duties and increase officer safety.
The significance of the three pronged approach is that it gives our officers an opportunity to deal with juveniles from the first time offender to the gang members. In addition, the students who do not break the law and normally would not have contact with the police, come to view the officer as someone they can trust and rely on.
2. When was the program created and why?
Juvenile crime and violence have been on the rise during the 1990's. More young people have committed crimes or have been victimized than at any other time in our history. With the increase in the police workload generated by juveniles, our department set out to formulate a plan to reverse the trend. By placing a high priority on reducing juvenile crime we are making an investment in Toledo's future.
Our schools are supposed to be safe havens for our children to: get an education, socialize with friends, be involved in extracurricular activities, and enjoy life as a youth. Too often, however, students and teachers felt they were not safe walking in the hallways or going to and from school. Reports of assaults on teachers and other acts of violence in our schools called for a different approach.
The School Officer program reassigned nineteen officers from the traditional patrol function and placed them into our junior and senior high schools in January of 1995. These officers report to their assigned school when the school opens in the morning and they stay until dismissal. The school officer is part of his or her school's community.
Juvenile Court began many years ago in Lucas County. There was a time when the bulk of the court's case load was status offenses and traffic violations. Now a large number of juveniles are coming into the system for violent felonies and there simply are not enough judges or courts to handle all of the cases. Misdemeanor crimes and status offenses, such as curfew, truancy, and runaway violations, do not get the type of attention they deserve.
The Toledo Police Department in collaboration with Lucas County Juvenile Probation and Family Services of Northwest Ohio developed a Police Probation Team, as a pilot program, in October of 1996. The program has been expanded to three teams to serve the entire city. A police officer, a probation officer and a family counselor work with juveniles referred to them by the court. They design a plan to help the youth and his/her family.
Toledo first began to experience gang problems in 1988, not long after the release of the movie "Colors." With the strong influence the media had on the youth, especially movies, news specials, and rap music, these youth called themselves gangsters. These gangsters started referring to the gangs as Bloods, Crips, and Folks. These three gangs had 400-500 estimated members. Some groups created names not nationally known. Most of the gangs had their own drug turf which was their economic base. Toledo began experiencing increases in crimes of violence, particularly, drive-by shootings and homicides.
In the summer of 1990, the Toledo Police Department formed a Gang Task Force. The Task Force disbanded, in the Fall of 1991, after a short but successful run. Other units attempted to address the gang problem, however, a permanent unit had to be re-established to eliminate gang activity in our city. The Gang Unit began operation in January 1995 as part of the Special Enforcement Division.
3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?
The quality of life in the schools has improved since the inception of our department's effort to address youth and gang crime. The Ohio (Governor’s) Office of Criminal Justice Services recently conducted a Survey-Based Study of the School Officer Program. The survey included 1,600 students, 100 teachers and staff, and all of the school officers themselves. The findings of the survey were extremely positive. The students seemed to have an appreciation for the officer's role in the school "community", as well as a greater sense of security.
The Police Probation Team reaches out to those juveniles who might have been lost in the court system. Bringing the treatment element into this form of diversion, the youth has a chance to change his or her behavior and become a contributing member of the community. The ultimate measure of success is the number of juveniles who will not become repeat offenders. Preliminary numbers from the pilot project look very encouraging.
If the Police Probation Team had not been an option for the youths under contract, they might have received little or no attention from juvenile court. These juveniles have been given a chance to improve their life with the help of the team and to become contributing members of our community.
Decrease in gang activity in public places due to enforcement strategies by the Gang Unit has improved the quality of life for our citizens. Gang members do not flaunt their colors as brazenly as they once did and our schools have reported a significant reduction in gang related offenses.
4. How is the program financed?
The School Officer Program is funded entirely (100%) by the Toledo Police Department. Nineteen officers are assigned full time to the program. The average annual salary of a Toledo Police Officer is $ 62,000, including fringe benefits.
The Gang Unit is funded 75% by the Toledo Police Department and 25% by the Lucas County Sheriff's Department. The unit is staffed by one Lieutenant and five detectives from Toledo. The sheriff's department assigns one detective to the unit and in the past has assigned an additional detective.
The funding for the pilot Police Probation Team comes from Title Five of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. It is administered by the Bureau of Justice. The grant pays the salary of a Team Assistant and for youth programming.
The agencies involved in the Team, Toledo Police, Lucas County Juvenile Court and United Way/Family Services of Northwest Ohio, support the grant with an in-kind match of the three Police Probation Team members.
The two new Police Probation Teams are funded by Byrne Grant funding. That money hired two team assistants and two counselors. The two police officers are fully funded by the Toledo Police Department.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all. How has the community responded to the program
Although our department has always enjoyed a good working relationship with the community, it has flourished since we began our community policing initiatives. Individuals throughout the city have stepped forward to contribute to the effort. Many people in our community have commented that they could not imagine our schools without a police officer present. The officers have become a welcomed part of the school staff. They attend school functions on their own time and one officer served as an assistant coach for his school's baseball team. Students have become so comfortable with the officers they often confide in them about topics such as: potential gang fights, drinking/drug parties, and physical and sexual abuse.
The communication between the School Officers and other units in the department is excellent. When a field unit stops a juvenile, they determine which school he or she attends and then forwards the information to the school officer. This makes the youth feel more accountable for his or her actions.
The interaction officers have with the Police Probation Team has given them a better understanding of the whole picture regarding juvenile justice. In the past, many officers made the arrest and did not concern themselves with what happened afterwards. Conversely, individuals from the courts and social services have a better appreciation for the struggles officers face with juveniles each day on the streets of Toledo. A better understanding is the first step to creating a better system to serve the community.
Members of the Gang Unit are often called upon to speak with parent, teacher, and Block Watch groups who are concerned about the gang problem. There is a willingness by many adults to learn and share information to help combat gang activity.
The officers in the schools have become a vital source of information for the Gang Unit. Together both units have taken a zero tolerance stance on gangs in the schools and both have been instrumental, along with field units, in enforcing the Curfew Ordinance.
The three strategies our department has employed to reduce youth crime and gangs in Toledo are a very important part of our total community policing effort. The response from our officers and citizens has been phenomenal. For too long, police officers were afraid to let the community get involved in policing. Once we opened the door and witnessed how much can be accomplished by working as one, the barriers went away. Toledo is a better place to live today and will be for generations to come if we continue to work with one other to solve problems and protect our city.
6. Contact person:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.