Northwest NEWS

August 31, 1998

Local News

Youth Safety - A Joint Responsibility

   by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell
   Youth safety is everyone's concern. On Aug. 19, some 400 people attended the Washington Youth Safety Summit co-sponsored by Gov. Gary Locke and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. The one-day summit was a culmination of months of volunteer efforts in nearly every county in the state where local residents gathered in community forums to brainstorm solutions to youth violence and improvements to youth safety.
   The question is now what?
   We've got people talking. And that's a step in the right direction. Here's some of what I heard. Statistics show that some types of youth crime are decreasing, but when a violent act is committed by a student on school grounds, statistics can't help make people feel better. One incident can shake the country. The Northwest has seen two such high profile cases of student violence. Moses Lake and more recently, Springfield, Oregon have been the sites of student deaths and injuries caused by other children with guns.
   In Springfield, the alleged shooter was arrested by police for having a gun on school property but then released the same day. He's now charged with shooting to death both of his parents later that day and killing and wounding students at his high school the following day - all within about 24 hours of the initial arrest.
   This terrible event led me to co-sponsor draft legislation that mandates that any person under 18 arrested for violating the ban on weapons at schools be held for at least 24 hours. The bill also would require school authorities to conduct a search of an arrested student's lockers and possessions for other weapons. And it directs police to seek a search warrant to allow them to search the student's car and home for any additional weapons. Another critical component to the bill requires the minor to be referred to the County Designated Mental Health Professional for mental health assessment and possible referral for treatment. While there is no single indicator to identify a potentially violent student, professional review can help officials understand the state of mind of a student who brings a weapon to a school campus. This important step could help avert a tragedy.
   We can no longer just send a child home after a school weapons' violation with no follow-up. The risks are too great.
   As policy makers, I know there is more that we can do to help young people and school workers feel a little safer. But we don't have all the answers.
   At the Youth Safety Summit I listened to public input and especially the eloquent testimony from young people in attendance. As we adults talk about how to tackle the complex problems associated with violence, let's not forget to include those who are affected the most: the students themselves.
   For a long time I have wanted to find a way to involve young people in the policies and laws that affect their lives. To that end, I am forming a District Youth Advisory Council to the Legislature.
   This group, comprised of young people representing the 1st Legislative District, would review and help structure proposed legislative session. I will be looking to this group to become involved in the legislative process.
   As the school year begins I will be seeking applicants from local schools and community groups. Please contact my office at (360) 786-7600 if you are interested in participating or would like more information.