In January, Sheriff’s Deputy and Nordhoff High School resource officer Victor Medina introduced Scholastic Crime Stoppers as a tool to help keep the campus safe from drugs, alcohol and weapons.
Since its inception, nine arrests have been made at Nordhoff and six at Matilija Junior High School. Eleven of the arrests were made for marijuana possession, and one each for possession of alcohol, brass knuckles, stolen property and a knife.
Scholastic Crime Stoppers is a nationwide program under Crime Stoppers, an international nonprofit organization, which receives all of its revenues from community donations and fund-raising events. It has no government involvement or funding.
The program rewards students who report a suspected crime on campus that involves drugs, alcohol or weapons. “If the information leads to an arrest, the student is awarded $50, anonymously, and that’s the best thing,” says Medina. ”The student’s name never comes up. All they have to do is report it to an administrator, teacher or myself. It’s an incentive for kids to do the right thing and get rewarded.”
Though the Scholastic Crime Stoppers program is just now moving into the Ojai area, it has been operating successfully in Ventura County for four or five years, according to Gary D’Amico, who heads the Ventura County operation.
“Guns, knives and drugs,” D’Amico said, “are being turned in nearly every day from the participating schools in Ventura County. Criminals usually relax after a couple of days and start bragging to their friends. They’re usually turned in by someone who knows them.”
People generally wait to report the crime until they feel it’s safe to call in anonymously. Callers are given an ID number, then contacted and rewarded if an arrest is made. A conviction is not necessary to receive an award.
According to an anonymous parent, students who’ve committed a crime then go before a review board with the superintendent of schools to determine whether they will be expelled and, if expelled, which school they will attend.
“The disciplinary actions come from the school,” said D’Amico. “We hear about kids being expelled all the time.” Drugs and weapons are expellable offenses.
As for the program’s effectiveness, Medina and Susanna Arce, vice principle at Nordhoff, believe the faculty and most students have responded positively to the program. Medina said, “I’d like to think the students, just by the results I’m seeing, have responded in a positive manner. I haven’t heard anything negative.
Though students expressed apprehension about “ratting” on friends, that sentiment seemed to fade quickly. “Kids want to do the right thing,” said Medina. “That’s why we do have kids that step forward and report when there’s something illegal going on. I think it’s the ones who want to get away with certain things that aren’t going to buy into this program because they don’t want to get caught.”
Several students anonymously expressed willingness to report crimes involving weapons. “I think it might work for weapons, like, if someone brings a gun on campus, no one wants to see that,” one said. Another says she would be willing to report a weapon, but only if she knew a student was planning on hurting someone with it.
But, even students who generally favor the program question its effectiveness, pointing to issues of anonymity, loyalty to friends, ill-motivation on the part of students, and the culture of drugs in school. “There are kids that tell and kids that don’t tell because it’s their friends. And the kids that don’t tell kind of affect the whole. It does no good for anybody, actually,” says one student who believes students should always report on-campus drug crime.
Both D’Amico and Medina have complete confidence in the anonymity of the program, saying they’ve never had anyone whose anonymity hasn’t been protected. But, some students cite stories, mostly second- or third-hand, of kids being threatened or beaten up for “ratting” on other students. Those reporting crimes sometimes break their own anonymity, by “bragging” to friends and acquaintances. It may be anonymous to teachers, but if it goes around school, it’s not really anonymous.
All students interviewed appear convinced that reporting on-campus crime has clear social consequences. They believe if they tell, the arrested student will find out who actually told, and that other students make fun of them or be violent toward them. “Most people that tell get found out and people get really pissed off at them,” one student says. “The program’s a good thing,” some say, “but then all the kids hate whoever turned them in and you’re basically an outcast.”
Several students reported knowing a girl who turned several of their friends in, telling others ahead of time she intended to do it. “Everybody got mad at her and were so ready to kick her butt,” said a student under agreement of anonymity.
Arce agreed that sometimes students also use the program to try and get each other in trouble. “If you don’t like a kid,” another student says, “it’s a way to make money and get them in trouble at the same time.”
One parent whose child was expelled for drug possession agreed. “Personally, I think they’re sending the wrong message to offer the $50,” the parent said. “I think it is really malicious. The motivation should be to help somebody, not to get the fifty bucks.”
Drugs continue to be the main concern.
“Nine times out of ten, we’re catching kids with $10 worth of pot,” said D’Amico.
“There are people smoking weed in the bathroom (almost) everyday, another Nordhoff student reports. “If they were gonna get turned in, that would’ve already happened. And the only thing that might happen is that people turn other people in just to make money.”
As for the culture of drugs on campus, students doubt the teachers and administration are naïve. ”Half the teachers are older. They came from the ‘60s and ‘70s. They probably smoked weed when they were a kid,” a student says. And, while he agrees that students shouldn’t have knives or guns, “a little pot or alcohol is not that bad, but not like crack or heroine or anything. They should have a law where you could have maybe a gram of marijuana where maybe if you’re really energetic, like A.D.D., or something maybe have a little.”
Overall, students are more focused on drugs than weapons. And, several students point to a deeper problem than just clearing drugs from campus. “That’s not a way to stop drugs: to try to get students to turn in their friends. They’ve tried to stop drugs by bringing this cop on campus and suspending people. Instead of coming in and getting (kids) in trouble, there are ways to approach it that’s more direct and more pro-student,” a student said. “They could support us to do other things. It’s just a negative look at everything: look, it’s a problem; we need to solve it, consequence. But life isn’t that simple.”
“Absolutely no one has come around to talk to the kids about their problem that landed them in this situation,” said an expelled child’s parent, “which I find very odd.”
“We’re not in the treatment business,” D’Amico said. “We’re just in the business of keeping drugs off campus.”
D’Amico says the Crime Stoppers program will become much more visible beginning in January when a most wanted list will appear in targeted newspapers. In the last few years, anonymous citizen reports have helped to solve nine homicides in Ventura County. D’Amico asks anyone who witnesses or is aware of a crime to contact Crime Stoppers hotline at 494-TALK or 385-TALK.
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