Schools: Anti-gang program effective, but expensive

Peninsula schools have nothing but high praise for a program that fights gang activity by stationing probation officers on campuses, but funding for that program could be in jeopardy in some parts of the county.

The $1.9 million Risk Prevention Program, run by the county probation department, puts 16 officers in local schools on a rotating basis, including 19 of 21 high schools and eight middle schools, according to Loren Buddress, the department’s director. Launched in 1994 and expanded in 1997, the program recently added officers at middle schools as younger and younger students began showing interest in joining gangs.

A San Mateo Grand Jury report on the Risk Prevention program released Wednesday praised its effectiveness, both in monitoring the county’s 1,650 students who are on probation and in diverting other kids from truancy, drug possession, on-campus assault and other activities. Truancy alone dropped anywhere from 66 to 72 percent at participating schools, according to the report.

Funding for the program is divided between the county, cities and school districts, and much of it comes from grants that come and go from year to year.

This year, Millbrae is weighing whether it can continue to pay for its share of the program, according to Buddress.

“We certainly don’t want to reduce services there, because Mills has been an active high school in terms of gangs and drugs,” Buddress said. “We are working with Millbrae to see if there can be some resolution.” Millbrae officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Ensuring funds may also be a problem in the Redwood City School District, which introduced probation officers at Kennedy and Hoover middle schools in December of 2005, according to Diane Kizler, coordinator of support services for the Redwood City School District.

“We don’t know if we are going to have enough funds for next year,” Kizler said, acknowledging that the officers have been a boon for students. “The students know there is somebody there who is another form of security and safety; they have someone to go to.”

Though the funding issue was not addressed in the Grand Jury’s report, foreman Edwin Glasgow acknowledged that it has been an ongoing concern since the program’s inception.

“You have to be concerned that some day they won’t be able to work out the funding problem,” Glasgow said. “It would be a shame to lose the program.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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