ALBANY, Ga. -- This past school year, 78 felons between the ages of 8 and 17 returned to classes in the Dougherty County School System, said a school police official.
"This year 88 have been in classes after being in jail or the RYDC (Regional Youth Detention Center)," said Dougherty County School Police Capt. Theois Gervin. "They have right to be in school by Georgia law."
Those numbers quoted by Gervin seemed to shock the few concerned citizens at the monthly Gang Task Force and Violence Prevention meeting Thursday in the Government Center.
Other numbers also hit the meeting hard. According to Gervin, 17 weapons (15 knives, a BB gun and a handgun brought into a school by a fourth grader) were confiscated this school year.
There has also been an influx of at least 200 students from areas other than Dougherty County to the school system, Gervin added.
"We don't know what they did," Gervin said, "but they are running from something."
Gervin noted that when students appear before school disciplinary tribunals many say they are affiliated with gangs. At least eight at Monroe High School have been arrested for gang participation, he said.
Dougherty County Sheriff's Office Lt. Terron Hayes said that the charge of gang participation can add 15 years on top of a sentence for other crimes. The vigorous prosecution of gang members by District Attorney Greg Edwards has worked as a deterrent, he added.
Programs such as student counseling and teacher training in violence prevention all help, Gervin said. But with a force of 17 on patrol covering 10 high and middle schools, it is difficult, he added.
Covering the territory would be easier if all his officers had a car to respond quickly to trouble, Gervin said. At present he has only eight working vehicles.
Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard said that everyone should get in touch with their school board representatives to encourage the purchase of more cars for school officers.
To that end he suggested everyone attend the monthly school board meeting starting at 6: 30 p.m. May 9 in the School Administration Building, 200 Pine Ave.