Riga government mulls cops in schools

  • 2002-03-07
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Some members of Riga's City Council say crime in Latvia has become serious enough to put cops and surveillance cameras in schools.

The initiative, led by the ruling Social Democrats, would beef up security in Riga's 152 secondary schools - beginning with 10 schools as soon as March this year.

"There is a very high level of criminality in schools, with 55 percent of students saying they have been victimized," said Andrejs Vilks, chairman of the City Council's safety and order committee.

The plan would allow municipalities to have the choice of whether to place police officers or other safety measures in schools.

Inete Ielite, director of the Ministry of Education's Children's Rights Center, agrees with the initiative.

"I think everyone - student, teachers, parents and headmasters - would say that schools have to be a safe place," she said. "If there is a need for police officers in schools, the municipality should have that option."

Schools could also install security cameras in corridors, building entrances and playgrounds, according to the plan. The project envisages installing six cameras at each school, including four cameras overlooking the school yard, one at the entrance and one inside the school building.

"Students say one guard does not matter since the guard will not be able to see everything going on in the school," said Ielite.

Growing narcotics use among students has contributed to a rising crime rate, said Vilks.

"In one school, 18 students tested positive for marijuana and there were even worse drugs present in urine tests," he said. "Police officers should manage these situations. It could be too complicated to try and solve this with regular security companies."

The City Council plan would also address preventative measures.

"Creating youth centers at schools where children and youths can spend their free time, this is also something we are considering," said Vilks.

Providing security for Riga's schools would cost on average 50,000 lats ($79,000) monthly and some 600,000 lats per year. The security firm Apsardze, which has been given the contract to provide school security, said they could place one security man in each school who would ensure order, avert drug dealing and violence and, if needed, alert the police.

Tim Ochser, a teacher at Riga High School 85, said the school he works at is not as bad as other schools in Riga might be.

"Our school has a security man who locks the door to make sure students don't run in and out," Ochser said. "We used to have a problem with drugs in the school, but it has been almost extinguished thanks to this."

Vilks would not say which schools in Riga might see these measures employed, nor how they would be funded.