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VOL. 123 | NO. 31 | Thursday, February 14, 2008

Herenton Announces $500K Plan for Increased School Security

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has announced the city will immediately buy 65 walkthrough and 210 handheld metal detectors to be used by every middle, junior and senior high school in the Memphis City Schools system. In addition, the Memphis police department will shift 67 officers to city school campuses. Herenton announced the moves at a Wednesday afternoon City Hall press conference.

“Let me make it emphatically clear that it is unacceptable to say to the citizens of Memphis that we cannot afford to place metal detectors in our schools – totally unacceptable,” Herenton said as Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin and Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell stood by his side. “What I want to do today as the mayor of this city is end that debate. As far as I’m concerned that debate is over.”

Herenton is allocating $500,000 in city funding to buy such equipment. Every middle, junior and senior high school in the city school system already has such equipment. But some school administrators have said daily checks of students would take too long. More metal detectors might change that. 

Under Memphis City Schools policy, principals are required to have only nine school days in which they use the detectors. Herenton didn’t run the idea past city school system leaders before the press conference. But he said he doesn’t blame the board for a recent spate of gun play at city schools.

Herenton plans to meet with school administrators in the next week to work on more cooperation and a more visible police presence on campuses. But the metal detectors won’t be on the agenda, he said.

“That debate is over. It doesn’t need to take place. The mayor has made a decision for everybody. … I’m sure I’ll have the full cooperation of the superintendent of schools as well as the Memphis board of education,” Herenton said.

The immediate measures and plans for talks with school officials came the same day that an unloaded gun was found in the backpack of a 14-year-old student at Lester School in Binghampton.

Monday, a student at Mitchell High School in South Memphis was shot three times and critically wounded by a classmate in gym class. That shooting came one week after a Hamilton High School student was shot in the leg during an argument in a classroom there.

“Public safety is an important responsibility of the city of Memphis and that responsibility includes public schools,” said Herenton, a former Memphis City Schools superintendent. “It is the responsibility of the Memphis board of education to develop policies and hold a management team led by a superintendent responsible for education.”

Godwin said students and parents at city schools will notice a more visible police presence in the days to come. He also said that in the past schools have been considered a “sacred cow” when it comes to crime-fighting efforts.

“We are ready to move with it. This is a quick fix. We are also thinking long-term,” Godwin said.

Meanwhile, District Attorney General Bill Gibbons announced Wednesday that his office will expand its requests to try juveniles as adults to include cases where a teenager is charged with bringing a gun on school grounds. The new juvenile transfer policy will include cases in which a gun is fired but no one is hit and cases where someone is wounded and the suspect is charged with aggravated assault. Under state law, it could also apply to a teenager who doesn’t use a gun but has one during an attack that qualifies as aggravated assault.

The transfer policy applies to juveniles aged 16 and older.

Gibbons said prosecutors will seek to try the suspect in this week’s shooting at Mitchell, who is 17 years old, as an adult.

Police believe the dispute that led to the shooting was gang-related and Gibbons said his office’s gang unit will be handling prosecution of the case.

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