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Making Schools Safer

June 16, 2010

Research into the effectiveness of implementing Violence-Free Zones at schools continues to show improved safety and attendance rates and decreased need for police interventions, say researchers at Baylor University.
The newest study results, released in May, show that a Richmond, Va., high school had significant reductions in student incidents, suspension rates and total suspensions during the 2008-09 school year, compared with the year before the Violence-Free Zone (VFZ) program was introduced in the school. The case study was carried out by Dr. Byron Johnson and William Wubbenhorst of Baylor's Program on Prosocial Behavior.
Using data and outcomes tracked through the Richmond Public Schools, Baylor researchers found that the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise's Violence-Free Zone has had demonstrable early impact on Richmond's George Wythe High School in the three following areas:

Improved safety within the school:

  • 16% reduction in incidents

Increased presence of students in school:

  • 5% decrease in unexcused absences
  • 9% decrease in total absences
  • 10% decrease in suspension days
  • 41% decrease in truancy rates

Reduced need for police services and intervention:

  • 18% reduction in calls for police service to school
  • 15% reduction in arrests at school
  • 61% reduction in motor vehicle thefts within 1,000 feet of school

In addition to examining school and police data, researchers looked at the findings in economic cost-benefit terms, including increased school teaching days and reduced police "transaction" costs, such as fewer police hours needed to address incidents/crimes at or near the high school, and general "value" associated with the reduced number of auto thefts attributable to the VFZ program. These include an estimated gain of 1,776 teaching days at the school and an estimated $371,305 saved in motor vehicles not stolen.
"In sum, interviews with Richmond school officials, teachers, staff and law enforcement personnel indicate widespread agreement regarding the connections between the VFZ initiative and improvements in a number of important of areas," the Baylor report said.
George Wythe is one of 36 schools across the nation that have implemented Center for Neighborhood Enterprise's Violence-Free Zone program this school year. Other sites are located in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas and Milwaukee.
"In combination, these in-depth interviews and data capture critical qualitative and quantitative insights [including cost-benefits associated with the program] into the preliminary results of this intervention designed to reduce youth violence," the report said. "The early impact of the VFZ in George Wythe, both qualitatively [from interviews of school staff and students] and quantitatively [through the comparison of a wide range of data] between academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09 has been quite significant."

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