Concern over Protecting School Employees after Teacher Robbed

Robber was able to sneak inside Detroit elementary school, rob teacher before class

Mar. 2--She had barely stepped inside Owen Elementary School on Detroit's west side Wednesday morning when a thief with a gun took her purse.

He'd waited for her inside the school, where she thought she would spend the next hour preparing for her students to arrive. Instead, she spent that time talking to police.

The 59-year-old teacher became the latest target of an armed robbery spree in Detroit on Wednesday: Since the academic year began in August, 31 people have been victimized on or near school property.

Last week, a janitor was shot at McMichael Elementary/Middle School. In December, a security guard was ordered to strip by a gunman outside Grant Elementary/Middle School, then robbed.

As community leaders, the Wayne County sheriff and Baptist ministers call for more security at city schools, parents, teachers and staff say they're scared.

"We are sitting ducks," said Ruby Johnson, a seventh-grade teacher at Marquette Elementary/Middle School on the city's east side. She was robbed at gunpoint at the school in June.

At a news conference at 2 p.m. today, district officials say they'll address the issue. Administrators and the district's police union are expected to announce a plan on how to handle crimes that so far this year have included armed robberies, car break-ins and a mother accused of stabbing two students at Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

The growing fear among school staff is not only that serious crime is increasing and staff members are being targeted, but that school officials and police are not doing enough to stop the violence.

"All of the government agencies are strapped for money, but the citizens don't want to hear that. They want to be protected," said Reverend David Murray, chairman of the school board's safety committee.

The committee is discussing whether the school district could pay off-duty police officers to beef up school patrols, he said. The group also is weighing Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans' proposal to take over management of the Detroit Public Schools' Office of Public Safety and its $18-million budget.

The school system had 26 armed robberies in the 2002-03 school year, the most recent data available. School officials did not respond Wednesday to a month-old Freedom of Information Act request from the Free Press for new crime data. By law, the district was supposed to respond within five business days.

The spree in Detroit is worrying even young students.

"He might do it again tomorrow," second-grader Tiffany Lipsey said of the armed robber at Owen Elementary on Wednesday.

The school principal sent a letter home with students telling parents that from now on, no one will be allowed inside the building before 8:45 a.m. -- 15 minutes before classes start.

Debra Lipsey, Tiffany's mom, said the incident will make her more cautious when walking her daughter to school.

"I'm not going to carry a purse walking around here any more," she said.

And teachers like Johnson, who've been victims before, are taking matters into their own hands. She carries a hammer for protection.

"Nothing is getting done," she said of efforts to make schools safer. "It's going to take walking into a bloodbath. ... I have a hammer because I'm not going to have the indignity of standing out there in the cold with somebody telling me to strip naked."

Chanhdy Phommarath wasn't forced to strip, but he is the only victim to be shot in the string of armed robberies so far this year.

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