Program targets school troubles

By Ed Brock

Mary Baker sees school-age children walking the streets during school hours and wonders why they are out.

"I have a feeling that students who are bored and out roaming the street will find trouble sooner or later," said Baker.

As a mother of two, Baker said she's glad to hear about the Clayton County Police Department's Operation SMASH. The acronym stands for Strategic Methods Against Street Harm and for the rest of the school year officers in the operation will focus on enforcing the law around certain Clayton County schools.

Operation SMASH will be held at various "high crime" areas around the county where police believe drug and gang activity are prevalent along with other crimes.

"This is not a truancy sweep but an operation that will target those areas where kids shouldn't be," said Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner.

The operation comes as a result of phone calls from the community in which residents complained of various illegal activities, said Clayton County Police Lt. Scott Stubbs. It will utilize student resource officers like Stubbs.

"It's to deal with gathering intelligence about illegal street activity. It's also to ensure the safety of our schools," Stubbs said.

Some of the activity reported to the police department includes truancy and trespassing on school grounds by non-students who come for illegal purposes.

"We also have information in the Jonesboro area about students going into vacant houses and hanging out there when they should be in school," Stubbs said.

And on Raymond Street near Jonesboro there have been reports of juveniles stealing mail out of mailboxes.

"My neighbors said that happened to them. They had their mail stolen," said Raymond Street resident Karen Stinnett, adding that she wasn't sure if it was juveniles who committed the crime.

She has noticed lots of young people walking around at odd hours during the day.

"It seems to me like I don't know what schedule they're on anymore. That may just be their schedule," Stinnett said.

Turner said students who are skipping school sometimes are going to retrieve a weapon that they intend to bring back into the school environment.

"If they are caught out there on the street (by officers participating in Operation SMASH) in these high crime areas we're going to stop them and check them," Turner said.

Operation SMASH is also a joint venture meant to "maintain a feasible collaborative" between the police department, Clayton County Public Schools and Clayton County Juvenile Court.