Warnings issued after off-campus robberies
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
Students are being warned to walk to school in pairs or groups and to heighten their awareness of their surroundings after seven students were robbed Thursday morning in Mililani while walking alone.
Six of the students were on their way to Mililani High School and one was walking from home to catch a school bus to Mililani Middle School when the off-campus robberies occurred.
Calling the robberies "rare," vice principal James Petersen nonetheless said the high school is looking at measures to raise safety awareness among students, families and the community.
One student thought he saw the butt of a gun protruding from the waistband of one of the robbery suspects.
"We're going to be briefing the School Community Council and Parent Teacher Student Organization and we've asked our parent community networking coordinator to prepare something for the parent bulletin," said Petersen. "And the middle school is going to do similar kinds of things to get the message out to the community that kids need to exercise reasonable care as adults do, just basic common-sense kinds of things.
"We're telling them they need to walk to school together or at least in pairs. And to exercise reasonable care and be aware of their surroundings. Particularly with the younger kids, if something doesn't feel right, they need to run and get adult help."
While incidents like Thursday's robberies are unusual, Mililani High and Department of Education officials said that school administrators have an automatic procedure for emergencies.
Police were called immediately when the students arrived at the high school and reported the crimes; campus security officers and the safety manager were alerted and increased patrols of the campus and its perimeter; and HPD beat officers in the area also increased perimeter patrols.
"All of our custodians have radios and they add to our eyes and ears on campus," said Petersen. "A lot of the Mililani (HPD) beat officers actually live in our community and two are Mililani High parents and they take a very personal interest in the safety and security of our community."
With more than a dozen people on direct alert, Petersen also e-mailed staff asking all of them to let the school's 2,421 students know they must be vigilant, aware of their surroundings, and report to an adult anything that seemed unusual.
Mililani High students already are alert to the nuances of their campus and for the past three years have had the highest number of accurate student Crime-stoppers tips among high schools, said the vice principal.
"Our kids are really good at letting us know when they see stuff that doesn't belong," said Petersen. "They don't want things going on on their campus that are wrong."
Deputy Superintendent Clayton Fujie said schools are good about alerting parents to potentially dangerous situations, even though such incidents have not been common.
"Every now and then you have one of these things that helps remind kids not to walk by themselves," he said.
But students today, with their plethora of must-have electronics, are also visible targets for crime off campus and on.
"Essential items of apparel are cell phones and iPods," said Petersen. "Generally speaking, there are very few kids in Mililani who don't have them."
Fujie said schools often remind students to take care of their personal belongings, and sometimes suggest they not bring them to school.
"The more you have, the more susceptible you are to others wanting it," said Fujie.
At Mililani Middle School, Principal Roger Kim said Thursday's incident happened far from the campus as a student was walking from home to a bus stop to catch a school bus. The student returned home and made a police report, and school administrators had few details.
Schools are not bound to report off-campus incidents to the central Department of Education office, but the DOE does collect reports of serious incidents on school campuses involving firearms, including air guns and paint ball, pellet and BB guns. The department is required to report these incidents annually to the state Legislature.
According to these legislative reports, serious incidents on school campuses decreased in the past two years. There were 30 incidents at 27 schools in the 2004-05 school year compared to 49 incidents at 24 schools a year earlier. But the number of incidents rose gradually from 2001 to 2003, increasing from 24 incidents at 18 schools in 2001 to 44 incidents at 25 schools in 2003.
In related news, DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said Wilson Elementary School was not officially locked down yesterday afternoon as has been reported when the same individuals suspected in the Mililani robberies later apparently fled toward that school and also Star of the Sea school in a stolen car.
One suspect was arrested Thursday, and two others are still being sought, according to police.
Knudsen said parents who arrived at Wilson were able to pick up their children as scheduled.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.