Camden, N.J. Schools Respond to Incidents with Plan for More Police Presence

Prompted by bomb threats and false fire alarms that have disrupted classes for thousands of students, Camden officials announced yesterday a plan to curb pranksters.

Schools Superintendent Annette D. Knox said police had agreed to increase patrols before and after school, especially near Woodrow Wilson and Camden High Schools, the city's two main high schools.

"We must take steps to demonstrate order," Knox said.

As she and city officials outlined the measures in the afternoon, a false fire alarm at Camden High forced about 1,500 students to evacuate. School officials were investigating.

The safety plan stems from the Oct. 19 shooting of Camden High student Antwan Searles, 16, who was critically injured. Searles was fleeing five teenagers on the Baird Boulevard overpass near the school when one of them shot him in the back with a handgun.

A 15-year-old has been charged in the shooting, which occurred after bomb threats closed Camden High and two nearby schools in the Parkside neighborhood early, affecting about 2,000 students. Officials have said the shooting and bomb threats were unrelated.

Knox said additional school personnel and police would be dispatched to help control the crowds when students are evacuated. Also, buses will take students home after an early dismissal, she said.

In addition, security will begin reviewing surveillance tapes and inspecting each school in the morning, searching for weapons or banned items, Assistant Superintendent Fred Reiss said. About 17,000 students attend Camden's three dozen public schools.

This year, the district has had fewer than a dozen bomb threats or false alarms, said James Thornton, security chief. Charges are pending against two people, including a student, he said.

"These things do pose a very serious threat," Deputy Fire Chief Kevin C. Hailey said.

Last school year, Camden reported 301 incidents, including 267 involving disorderly persons, 17 involving property damage, 10 fights, and 2 bomb offenses.

(c) 2005 Associated Press