CITY OF EL PASO, TX
Mayor Carlos Ramirez

POLICING PROGRAMS TO COMBAT SCHOOL VIOLENCE

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

El Paso has taken a multi-faceted approach to the problem of youth violence, recognizing that there is no one program that adequately addresses all needs. The concept incorporates prevention, early intervention, and crime reduction. The major components are the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, the Youth Initiative Program (YIP), the Gang Unit, the Drive-By Shooting Response Team (DSRT) and the Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP.)

The School Resource Officer (SRO) program has been in operation since 1976.  The SROs work in partnership with the schools and community to address juvenile challenges.

Police officers are assigned to middle schools to promote a positive perception of authority and the role of authority in society. They are stationed throughout the city in 26 middle schools. The SRO is involved in educating the students, parents, and faculty of the school to which he/she is assigned. They educate students on leadership and how to make positive choices.

They instruct students, parents and faculty on drug recognition and detection of drug use. They advise the students of the consequences of committing a criminal act. They provide support for teachers when confrontational situations occur. The SROs provide classroom presentations of the D.A.R.E. program and the consequences of gang involvement. They provide instruction on law, personal responsibility, and one-on one counseling sessions with students to help develop a positive self-image. They participate in after-school programs and encourage parental involvement through the PTAs and PTOs.

The Youth Initiative Program (YIP) brings law enforcement, community agencies, schools, churches, and businesses together in a combined effort to reduce youth problems through early intervention and prevention. It targets at-risk juveniles, youth likely to get in trouble at school or with the law, providing early identification and referral services. YIP was started in 1995 by agencies in the El Paso area including the Child Crisis Center, the Shelter for Battered Women, the Juvenile Probation Department, the US Border Patrol, and Child Protective Services, to help confront and prevent juvenile crime.

YIP was developed as an umbrella to foster communication and partnership between various agencies which pool their resources to offer the greatest amount of help to at-risk juveniles before they become involved in illegal activities. It gives youth an alternative to gang involvement and has provided an avenue for police officers to reach out to our teens in a positive and constructive manner. YIP utilizes a three-step process:

1. A task force of agencies is created to select a neighborhood where at-risk youth are targeted

  1. Quality of life issues in the area are then addressed: such as the installation of lights, clean-up of neighborhood parks, and the organization of Neighborhood and Business Watches.
  2. Graffiti sites are painted over or sandblasted and volunteers are recruited from area residents.
  3. In the third stage of the process, YIP agencies begin identifying and focusing on at-risk youth in the area.

The EPPD has one officer assigned to YIP serving as a community resource, conducting over 1,000 community presentations, providing parental responsibility training, and assisting with community projects.

Two examples of successful YIP projects are:

1. The Marty Robbins Park project: In February 1996, the YIP mobilized over 20 agencies and 400 volunteers who picked up over 250 bags of trash, cleaned 25 graffiti sites and signed up 15 area residents for the Neighborhood Watch Program.

2. The Memorial Park project: In March 1997, YIP organized a second Clean-Up day, mobilizing over 15 agencies and 300 volunteers to pick up 500 bags of trash and cleaned 15 graffiti sites.

The Gang Unit was created in response to growing community concerns about gang violence. They gather information on gang members and activities and maintain files on each gang. The officers give presentations to the public, especially the schools, parents and teenagers, to educate them about the signs, symptoms and consequences of gang lifestyle. Current gang trends are discussed, as well as personal safety, community action plans, prevention and intervention strategies. The officers counsel individual families and their children who want help in getting out of the gang. The Gang Unit maintains a high profile patrol and during the school year, they focus attention on neighborhoods surrounding the schools to deter gang activity.

In 1995, the EPPD implemented the Drive-By Shooting Response Team (DSRT) to combat the increase in these particular crimes. The team is called to respond whenever a drive-by shooting occurs and works around the clock until an arrest is made or all available leads have been exhausted.

The Serious Habitual Offender Comprehensive Action Program (SHOCAP) is a collaborative effort of several agencies including the El Paso Police Department, the El Paso Sheriff’s Office, the County Attorney’s Office, Juvenile Probation Department, Texas Youth Commission, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, and all existing school districts in El Paso County. These agencies have worked together to develop a list of chronic juvenile offenders and to focus efforts on their apprehension and indictment. They have established a record keeping system with computer networking and photos.

Recently, the EPPD began to sponsor a program at Raymond Telles Youth Academy, an alternative school in Central El Paso. Police officers mentored students and became involved in various school activities. In the summer of 1998, an art class from the school was invited to design and paint a mural which depicted police officers performing various duties, on a hallway inside the Police Headquarters building,. The project took six weeks and the students who participated earned school class credit as well as gaining valuable experience.

2. When was the program created and why?

In the early 1990s, crime in El Paso seemed to be increasing in record proportions, especially crime involving young people such as gang violence. In 1992, drive-by shootings had increased 135% over the previous year. Gang-related murders were up 156%. El Paso has a median income of only $32,000 and 26% of the population live at or below the poverty line. Chronic high unemployment and a low level of educational attainment have hindered efforts to upgrade the workforce. Only 20% of El Pasoans over the age of 25 have a college degree. In addition, 37% of the population is under twenty years of age. Early and positive interaction with police officers was necessary to encourage young people to identify the police as role models and to resist the temptation to become involved in gangs or to sample drugs.

The implementation of community policing in El Paso created greater opportunities for the police department to form partnerships with school districts, non-profit agencies, citizen volunteers, and other law enforcement agencies.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

Overall, the effectiveness of the programs has been reflected in a steady decrease of crime in El Paso over the past five years. In November 1997, El Paso was rated by Money Magazine as the 3rd safest large city in the US. Individually, each program has its own measures of success:

    • SRO - the willingness of the school districts to pick up half of the cost of the officer salaries, beginning in 1996, indicates that the school administrators value the presence of the officers and this approach to juvenile delinquency prevention
    • YIP - this program has experienced a steady increase in member agencies since its inception. YIP membership has grown from 20 agencies in 1995 to more than 90 agencies at the present time.
    • SHOCAP - since the inception of this program, 72% of the candidates have been incarcerated or placed out of El Paso.
    • DSRT - El Paso has seen a 37% decrease in gang homicides, drive-by shootings and violent gang crime since 1995 and the clearance rate for these crimes has increased from 84% in 1995 to 98% in 1997.

4. How are the programs financed?

Through a combination of funding sources. The El Paso Police Department annually receives about 20% of the City’s general funds revenue. In 1997 that figure came to $72,955,800. In addition, the EPPD has been aggressive in soliciting grant funds to supplement their programs, and the SRO program was initially funded through grants. The program was so successful that since 1996, the school districts have paid for half of the officer salaries for the SROs assigned to their schools. In 1997, the total program costs amounted to $361,614 and the schools paid $180,807. Funding for the YIP comes from our Local Law Enforcement Block Grant. The Gang Unit also has received grant funds in prior years.

5. How is the community involved in the program? How has the community responded to the program?

The public/private partnerships that have developed as a result of these programs have built trust and improved communication between the citizens, the schools, non-profit agencies and various law enforcement agencies. Parents, children and school officials appreciate the information and attention provided by the School Resource Officers and the Gang Unit. Due to early and positive interaction with the police, our young people are more likely to resist the temptation to become involved in gangs or sample drugs. Through the Youth Initiative Program, non-profit agencies and hundreds of volunteers have been mobilized to clean up graffiti and trash in their neighborhoods.

The El Paso Police Department has utilized Citizens Advisory Boards (CABs) made up of volunteer citizen representatives in each area of town for several years to assist with the identification of community problems and to help develop viable solutions. The CABs provide valuable information to the Department and act as a liaison with the community they serve.

In 1997, the CABs set up Youth Advisory Boards to deal with youth issues. These committees are comprised of students aged 13-17 from area middle and high schools.

The Youth Advisory Boards have adopted goals for 1998. They will work to increase the participation of high school students in Drunk Driving Awareness Programs. They have planned a canned food drive to help needy families and have committed to mentoring elementary school students in their neighborhoods.

6. Contact person:

Kimberly Forsyth

Research Assistant

El Paso Police Department

911 N. Raynor

El Paso, Texas 79903

(915) 564-7339

FAX (915) 564-7394

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