Nearly twice as many teenagers reported gangs in their schools in 1995 as they did in 1989 while the number of students victimized by violent crime increased nearly 25 percent, the U.S. government reported Sunday.
President Clinton called the findings "unacceptable" and urged Congress to fight the trend by approving anti-gang and youth violence initiatives he offered a year ago, focusing on "what we know works - tough, targeted deterrence.""Gangs - and the guns, drugs and violence that go with them - must be stopped from ever reaching the schoolhouse door," Clinton said.
Based on surveys of students aged 12-19, street gangs were spotted in schools by 28.4 percent of those questioned in 1995 compared with only 15.3 percent in 1989, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics reported.
Violent crime at school - physical attacks or a robbery by force, weapon or threat - was reported by 4.2 percent of students in 1995, up 23.5 percent from 3.4 percent six years earlier, the Justice and Education departments said.
Pascal D. Forgione Jr., U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics, said that while relatively small, "this difference of 0.8 percentage points was statistically significant and represented an increase of about 270,000 students."
Forgione noted the gang increase came in every type of community. In central cities, students reporting street gangs rose from 24.8 percent to 40.7 percent; in suburbs, from 14.0 percent to 26.3 percent, and in non-metropolitan areas, from 7.8 percent to 19.9 percent.
Violence at school shocked the nation last month when two boys, aged 11 and 13, gunned down four students and a teacher at a rural middle school in Jonesboro, Ark. Classmate Melinda Henson said 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson claimed to be part of a gang and wore some type of red "every day, because he was in the Blood Gang."
The survey found that gangs and violence went together. In 1995, 7.5 percent of all students who reported gangs in their schools also said they had fallen victim to violent crime there, compared to just 2.7 percent of the students who reported no gangs in school.
Although citing changes in the six years between the two surveys, the report warned the "reader should not assume . . . a stable trend between 1989 and 1995."
Indeed, government data shows that violent crime by juveniles peaked in 1994 and has declined for two years since then. Arrests of teenagers for violent crimes dropped 2.9 percent in 1995 and 9.2 percent in 1996.
And gangs in schools also may be coming down from a peak a couple of years earlier. The National Center for Education Statistics noted that a different study found an even higher incidence of gangs in 1993 than the 1995 study did.
The 1993 study found 35 percent of students said "fighting" gangs were present in their schools. The government cautioned that "data from these two surveys cannot be compared directly due to different wording of the gangs question," but the differences could signal trends.
The survey recorded a slight and statistically insignificant drop in students subjected to thefts and other property crime at school, dropping from 12.2 percent in 1989 to 11.6 percent in 1995.
When property crimes and violent crimes were combined, the overall victimization rate for students - those who suffered one or more crimes - remained level, 14.5 percent in 1989 compared to 14.6 percent in 1995.