Algonquin Police Chief Russ Laine among Law Enforcement Folks Offering Suggestions for School Safety
A press release from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids:
ILLINOIS LAW ENFORCEMENT LEADERS SAY SCHOOL CLIMATE AND METNAL HEALTH ARE THE KEYS TO SCHOOL SAFETY
States Attorneys, sheriffs, police chiefs meet with Senator Mark Kirk about preventing gun violence
Lake County, IL (April 12, 2013) – In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Illinois law enforcement leaders met with Senator Mark Kirk to urge Congress to include key school climate and mental health approaches in any legislation to address gun violence and support school safety. The meeting was attended by:
- Bob Berlin, State’s Attorney, DuPage County
- Russ Laine, Chief of Police, Algonquin
- Joe McMahon, State’s Attorney, Kane County
- Michael Nerheim, State’s Attorney, Lake County
- Richard Randall, Sheriff, Kendall County
- Tom Weitzel, Chief of Police, Riverside
The law enforcement leaders are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a group of 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and crime survivors who believe the best way to prevent crime and violence is to invest in proven strategies that get kids started on the right path in life and keep them there.
They presented Senator Kirk with a letter signed by over 100 Illinois law enforcement leaders that highlighted several approaches supported by the group.
“Law enforcement and prosecutors know that no conversation about school safety and preventing gun violence is complete without addressing the mental health and behavioral challenges schools face daily,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin.
“It is critical to public safety to make sure teachers, staff and students have the right tools to help troubled youth, increase positive behavior, and keep kids in school and on track,” said Algonquin Police Chief Russ Laine.
Address bullying to improve school climates
To keep kids on the right path, schools must foster a positive school climate conducive to learning and free from violence, including bullying.
A U.S. Secret Service study showed that 75 percent of school shooters had previously been bullied or injured by fellow students.
The law enforcement leaders highlighted the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which was shown to reduce bullying in North Carolina by 20 percent.
The key, members said, is to focus on evidence-based approaches, since they have been proven to positively address school climate and ensure long-term public safety.
“Bullying among youth hurts both bystanders and victims. It’s disruptive to learning, and has lasting repercussions for many children. Prevention of serious incidents of violence starts by preventing bullying with proven strategies,” said Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim.
Don’t push troubled kids out of school
The law enforcement leaders also cautioned against unnecessary suspensions and expulsions for conduct that doesn’t impact the safety of the school environment.
“Too many troubled kids view suspension and expulsion as a free vacation from supervision,” said Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon. “Suspension and expulsion are absolutely essential tools for the most serious offenses, but we can’t keep pushing kids out of school and into the streets unsupervised for relatively minor, non-violent infractions.”
Research has shown that students who have been suspended or expelled are nearly five times more likely to drop out than their peers.
Additionally, a student who drops out becomes eight times more likely to end up in jail or prison than his or her peers who stayed in school.
Address mental health issues
Finally, the Fight Crime: Invest in Kids representatives urged Senator Kirk to consider several mental health recommendations.
About one in five children and adolescents aged 9 to 17 have a diagnosable mental health order, but 70 to 80 percent fail to receive needed treatments.
“Children often show signs of mental health challenges well before they turn to violence,” said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.
“We must do everything in our power to identify those children and get them the support and effective treatment they need as early as possible.”
The law enforcement leaders urged Senator Kirk to include resources to provide school personnel with training to identify, screen and refer students to essential evidence-based mental and behavioral health services. While no single solution will prevent all crime, the recommendations outlined are components of a comprehensive plan to reduce violence and improve school safety.
“It’s important to remember there is no catch-all solution to preventing tragedies like the one in Newtown, or other kinds of crime,” said Kendall County Sheriff Richard Randall. “But a comprehensive approach that incorporates the best available tools to give kids and schools the right supports is our best bet.”