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Officials see both sides of ‘snitch’ programs

Area schools have not jumped aboard a trend among otherdistricts nationwide to encourage students to snitch on their peersbut say they would be willing to consider the concept.

About 2,000 schools and colleges, from Honolulu to Palm BeachCounty, Fla., have adopted Student Crime Stoppers programs thatreward students who report classmates who carry guns, drugs oralcohol, commit vandalism or otherwise violate school policies.

Participating school districts offer a variety of rewards forvalid reports, ranging from monetary rewards or gift certificatesto parking passes for “premium” spots.

Critics say such programs are a knee-jerk reaction to studentviolence. Some education professionals fear such policies couldcreate a climate of distrust in schools and turn students againsteach other.

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister andBrookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said theirdistricts have not initiated such programs. Lawrence County HighSchool Principal Daryl Scoggin said his district had a program, nowdefunct, that was similar but did not offer rewards.

“You want people to do the right thing because it’s the rightthing to do, Barrett said. “I worry this could create a climate ofdistrust and spur false accusations.”

Brister, who said he “did not know the ins and outs” of theprogram, did not readily agree with nor dismiss the merits of asimilar program here.

“It would be something to consider,” he said. “Anything to detercrime, especially on school campuses, is worth considering.”

Both Brister and Barrett said that before they could reach adecision on whether such a program would be acceptable it wouldrequire considerable research and study.

“I would also like to know how successful it is (in otherdistricts) and what the pitfalls are,” Brister said.

The district would have to review and study existing programs inother districts before making a decision, he said.

There are also programs already in place to report campuscrimes, Barrett said. The state Department of Education offers ananonymous tip line and that number is posted at all schools.

Most schools also offer an anonymous phone line or a school dropbox for tips.

Crime Stoppers U.S.A., a nonprofit crime preventionorganization, began helping schools set up the program in 1983.

In Lawrence County, the district had been participating in theYouth Crime Watch of America program until last year, when theprogram manager, Charles Peyton, retired, Scoggin said.

The YCWA program used trained teams of students at each school,kindergarten through twelfth grade, to watch for illegal activityand report it to the program director.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.