US Mayor Article

Fresno Keeps Careful Watch Over Students, On Campus and Off
City Employees, Letter Carriers, Parents Among Those Serving as “Eyes and Ears” for Police

May 1, 2000


Keeping Fresno’s students safe as they walk to and from school is a mission shared by the City of Fresno – its Police, Fire, Transit, and Solid Waste Management Departments – the Fresno Unified School District, and the U.S. Postal Service. This mission is realized through Students Traveling and Arriving Safely (STARS), a city-wide partnership based on a simple premise: The more people actively looking out for children as they walk to and from school, the better.

In 1993, the City’s school system entered into a collaborative relationship with the Fresno Police Department and the Fresno County Probation Department to maintain police-probation teams on school campuses, youth courts in some schools, and safer campuses overall. The collaboration was a success: In its first five years of operation, school crime dropped significantly; the number of firearms discovered on high school campuses, for example, dropped from 49 in the 1992-93 school year to just one in 1997-98.

In the spring of 1998, however, significant media attention was drawn to several incidents which occurred off-campus – two abductions of female students on their way to school (in both cases the students were released unharmed), two other attempted abductions of students, and a series of armed robberies of students on their way to school. While these incidents did not represent a major crime problem for a city of more than 400,000 residents and a school system with more than 77,000 students, media accounts raised concerns among public officials and the public in general, and school and public safety officials believe they also added to public misconceptions about school safety.

The addition of the high profile incidents to the somewhat more routine, though no less disturbing, victimization of students – including adult males exposing themselves to young girls, adults attempting to lure children into vehicles, unprovoked assaults on students by non-students, bullying of students and extortion of money by delinquent youth – prompted the schools and the City and County to build on their successful on-campus collaboration, this time focusing on student safety off-campus. The STARS program, implemented in September 1998, was designed to signal criminals that Fresno cared about its children and was bringing the resources of the entire community together to guard their safety. Among the activities launched at that time and still underway:

  • City Eyes – This involves the use of City employees as “eyes and ears” for police. Employees of the Solid Waste, Transit and Public Works Departments, all of whom routinely drive in neighborhoods as children are walking to and from school, receive training in recognizing and using radios to report suspicious activity. Transit drivers receive radio descriptions of suspects and suspect vehicles involved in crimes against school children, increasing the chances that these suspects will be located.

  • Police Officers – Patrol officers, DARE officers, and school liaison officers pay special attention to the streets near schools at the beginning and end of each school day. Police officers and Community Service Officers also make safety presentations to students and parents and train parents to patrol the streets.

  • Parent Patrols – The volunteer parent patrols walk or drive on streets near schools, looking for suspicious activity or for students in distress. Those who walk wear distinctive orange vests; those who drive display magnetic parent patrol signs on their car doors. The parents do not take enforcement action or otherwise place themselves in danger; when necessary, they use cell phones to contact police or radios to contact school staff.

  • Postal Workers — Fresno’s Postmaster enlisted the support of his 500 letter carriers, adding them to the “City Eyes” network. Police officers train letter carriers who, in turn, train other letter carriers.

  • Safe Houses – Fresno Fire Department stations serve as safe houses for children frightened or in distress, and firefighters screen, train and provide safe house signs for neighbors who volunteer their houses for the program. City buses also serve as “safe places” for children.

  • School Employees – School staff, teachers, and student safety assistants position themselves on the perimeter of school campuses during the times when students are arriving at schools or leaving them. (These employees distribute the vests and signs to the volunteers in the parent patrols.)

  • Students – Students are trained to walk with parents or other students to and from school, to watch for suspicious people or vehicles, to take safe routes home, to report any activity that frightens or concerns them, and to look out for fellow students.

  • Citizens on Patrol – The Police Department’s volunteer Citizens on Patrol drive through school neighborhoods in marked police vehicles and use their police radios to report suspicious activity.

STARS operates on a very modest budget: $2,000 provided by the Police Department has been used to purchase the vests for the parents and other volunteers who walk around the schools, train program participants, purchase the magnetic signs which denote the safe houses and parent patrol cars, and provide each school with start-up supplies.

“STARS is a real life example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts,” says Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson in reference to the wide range of individuals watching over his City’s students. “It is also a reflection of our philosophy that policing is something we do with the community, not to it.”

Additional information on STARS is available from Lt. Dennis Bridges of the Fresno Police Department, (559) 498-1410.

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