Operation CleanSWEEP

  Jim Gibbs, Candidate for Sheriff

When it comes to school security, the news is both good and bad. The bad news is that nothing can prevent a highly motivated individual from eluding even the best security measures whether at the White House, the courthouse, or the schoolhouse. While this represents the bad news of harsh reality, the good news reveals that, in fact, schools can put into place a wide variety of proven, and highly effective, safety procedures and precautions. These security measures—when used in a well orchestrated manner—can provide a school with a tremendous web of interacting defenses, all of which contribute to making that campus a safer place.

It would be my goal as Cannon County Sheriff to develop a program such as the one found in San Bernardino County, California. It is an innovative program that has succeeded in reducing crime on high school campuses in recent years. A triple partnership program, Operation CleanSWEEP (Success With Education/Enforcement Partnership) includes the office of the superintendent of schools, the sheriff’s department, and the court system. This dynamic and dramatically effective program has taken the most productive elements of other approaches and melded them together to make a three-pronged attack on school crime through juvenile citations, security assessment, and special projects. As a result, many school officials and parents regard Operation CleanSWEEP as the premiere safe-campus program in the area today.

The need for a program to reduce incidents of crime and violence on school campuses in San Bernardino County grew out of concern that youth in the county flouted the law on high school campuses and received neither genuine punishment nor rehabilitative guidance. The practice of suspending or expelling students appeared to incubate bad attitudes in at-risk youths without inculcating either a sense of personal responsibility for the behavior or a sense of how youths’ actions would affect their future career goals. Therefore, in 1997, the sheriff’s department set out to find a better way. It formed a committee of deputies, lawyers, judges, probation officers, and school officials to assess the problem and design a program that could offer safer campuses to San Bernardino County students.

Operation CleanSWEEP is a system that, among many different efforts, places students into other programs—programs designed to stymie their unacceptable behavior. For many teenagers, this program represents their first encounter with the concept of personal accountability, and it intends to have them feel the sting of a collective societal reprimand for their actions. At the same time, CleanSWEEP seeks to avoid criminalizing offending students (no permanent criminal record exists for cited students). Moreover, by keeping offenders in the classroom, the program avoids disrupting their education and also helps the school not lose attendance funding due to suspended or expelled students.

A single comprehensive program, Operation CleanSWEEP comprises several interlocking, interdependent parts designed to complement each other. Although CleanSWEEP is intended for the public to perceive it as a unified assault on school crime, in reality, it is a jigsaw puzzle of carefully interrelated factors, all designed to achieve the purpose of making life on a school campus more pleasurable and valuable for the average peaceful student. The entire community—parents, school staff, community-based organizations, public service agencies, local government, and civic groups—all support and lend their expertise and assistance.

How Does It Work?
First, Operation CleanSWEEP takes a “carrot and stick” approach to the issue. In other words, students who violate certain criminal codes such as disturbing the peace, possessing tobacco or tobacco-related products, petty theft, affixing graffiti, vandalism, and littering on campus face a combination of retributive and rehabilitative measures. They receive both punishment and appropriate counseling to help them avoid problem behavior in the future. A juvenile citation, or ticket, represents the “stick” of the program. Written by a vice principal or dean, the ticket places offending students in informal juvenile traffic court with their parents. There, students can tell the hearing officer, or “judge,” their side of the story. The judge imposes a disposition, such as dismissed, convicted, or convicted with a suspended sentence. Usually, the judge fines students a dollar amount, ranging from $30 to $400. Students may waive these fines, the “carrot” of the program, if they agree to certain sanctions, such as improving attendance or grades, providing community service, and attending diversionary programs, such as anger management or smoking cessation classes, depending on the nature of the offense.

The second part of the program involves the security assessment component, which inspects schools for safety-related problems. Deputies conduct detailed analyses of the facilities, scrutinizing every conceivable aspect from a safety standpoint. Specifically, deputies look at—

• physical security;
• crisis response and disaster preparedness plans;
• agency relationships and reporting procedures/discipline policies;
• social and cultural observations; and
• staff development.

Also, the deputies distribute questionnaires to staff and students to gather input on safety-related issues and gain a snapshot of the school’s general attitude on the subject of school security. The deputies then package all of this information together and present it to the principal on a confidential basis. Principals can use this information as they see fit, although the sheriff’s department stands ready to work with the school to bring about any changes indicated by the audit, such as erecting fences around the parking lot, limiting loitering spots, installing lights in crucial areas, or rewriting procedures for handling bomb threats.

Finally, a variety of special projects represents the third element of Operation CleanSWEEP. These comprise an array of speakers, classes, presentations, and promotional events designed to impart the best information possible about personal security. For example, the sheriff’s department offers an extensive, and intensive, training session on crisis management that helps schools prepare for emergency situations, including an armed suspect on campus, a student with hostages, potentially violent parents on campus, bomb threats, poison scares, and suicidal students. Developed by a team of counseling professionals and veteran deputies, the plan also has realistic mock hostage scenarios that simulate a takeover of a campus so that both the school administration and department personnel can prepare for a potential crisis. Other events include safety fairs and seminars for parents and school staff members on such topics as gang recognition, conflict resolution, and diversity comprehension. The department tailors the training to meet the needs of each campus and school community.

Who Pays for It?
Although nourished by several funding streams, including drug-related asset-seizure funds and standard county revenues, Operation CleanSWEEP conducts a continuing effort to research, locate, investigate, and apply for all funding resources for which the program qualifies. The program also works toward securing sponsorships from corporations and private sources. The sheriff’s department intends for the program to operate as cost-effectively as possible, realizing that most grants and subsidies supplement, not supplant, original funding sources. Moreover, the savings in terms of deputies spending less time going to school campuses and the overall reduction in crimes perpetrated by students offset many of the expenses.

Ensuring that its youngest members receive an adequate education constitutes a noble goal of any cultivated society. An even more important objective involves children obtaining an education in a peaceful and secure environment, free from crime, harassment, and threats of any kind. While school officials attempt to create an atmosphere that fosters student progress, too often school children fall victim to the same criminal element that afflicts the adult population. When this occurs, criminal justice authorities must intervene.

In San Bernardino County, California, the sheriff’s department, school authorities, the judicial system, and the community as a whole united in a common assault on juvenile crime. Operation CleanSWEEP began as a concerted bundling of retributive and rehabilitative elements in a school/police partnership to reduce danger and defiance on school campuses. It has shown students who flout the law that the community will hold them accountable for their aberrant behavior. However, instead of merely punishing the violators, the program provides them with the means of learning how to avoid repeating these offenses and encourages them to participate in healthy and productive lifestyle choices. Operation CleanSWEEP shows young offenders that their community values them and wants them to become respected, prosperous citizens. Such programs demonstrate how determined communities can reverse the bad news of school crime and violence into the good news of school security that keeps students safe and able to learn.

For more information contact Jim Gibbs.

Send e-mail to: JimGibbs@CannonCounty.net