JIS News

A survey to assess the prevalence of gangs in 10 schools across the island is currently being conducted by the Safe Schools Secretariat.
The survey, which began in June, is being carried out by the School Resource Officers (SROs), in collaboration with Principals and Guidance Counsellors. In an interview with JIS News, Co-ordinator for the Police in the Safe Schools Programme, Superintendent Norman Heywood pointed out that the survey would not target students who were in groups, but “will focus on those students who are organized, have a common design and those who are bent on procuring money and other items by means of extortion”. Additionally, he said that the survey would target students who took on the names of prominent gangs operating in the community.
He noted that in the long term, the investigation would be done in all schools involved in the Safe Schools Programme. The data, he added, would determine the influence and extent of gang activity in schools and the impact of these gangs on them. It is expected that various interventions will be designed by officials of the Safe Schools Programme to stem the problem.
These interventions, Mr. Heywood acknowledged, could involve a more direct approach by calling in parents to deal with the matter or by having a one-on-one session with an SRO.
Commenting on the proliferation of gang activity in schools, the Co-ordinator said that students normally joined gangs as a result of parental neglect. This, he said, resulted from a need to seek approval from other students.
“I learned very early in the programme that because of protection from other students, persons would join gangs, sometimes because of lack of self-esteem and because others are easily influenced,” he pointed out.
Mr. Heywood told JIS News that since the start of the Safe Schools Programme, the Police have managed to dismantle three school-based gangs. However, there were still seven known gangs operating in the school system.
In order to eliminate them, he said the Police were now carrying out the necessary investigative work. Additionally, he noted that SROs have been successful in dismantling school-based gangs in the Spanish Town area, adding that they have been working with community members in order to develop partnerships to prevent the resurgence of these gangs.
The Safe Schools Programme was instituted in November 2004 and is a government initiative to tackle the problem of violence in schools. To date, a total of 114 police officers have been trained as SROs, with 97 dispatched to 92 schools. An additional 36 SROs should be added to the complement by June, 2007.