Newslines— Violent incidents down among New Jersey schools

Total reported incidents of violence, vandalism, weapons, and substance abuse are down in New Jersey schools, a new report says.

Total incidents dropped 7 percent, from 27,872 in the 1997-98 school year to 25,969 in the 1998-99 school year, according to the state Department of Education report.

Broken down, violent incidents, such as fights, declined 7 percent, from 14,152 in 1997-98 to 13,320 in 1998-99.

However, a subset of violent incidents, those involving school staff members as victims, soared 30 percent. Many of those involved only verbal threats.

Education officials attributed the rise in violent incidents involving staff to schools’ increasing use of zero-tolerance policies and to a heightened awareness of reporting.

Overall, vandalism reports decreased by 12 percent. Weapons offenses climbed 8 percent, an increase officials say was largely driven by a rise in bomb scares.

Reports of firearms possession dropped by 36 percent, and substance abuse incidents declined by 5 percent, according to the report.

The report relies on voluntary reporting compliance by school districts, some of which have differing interpretations of the categories.

“There’s always going to be gray areas, such as when do you call a fight a fight,” said department spokesman Richard Vespucci. “Certain aspects of the report have always been subjective, but we’ve tried to tighten it up.”

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