Crimes near Northwest High are tied to bullying

Russell Larson, a Montgomery police school resources officer, says the crimes near Northwest High are a form of bullying.
Russell Larson, a Montgomery police school resources officer, says the crimes near Northwest High are a form of bullying. (Tess Colwell)
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By Jen Bondeson
The Gazette
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Montgomery County police are working with Northwest High School administrators to find those responsible for four robberies and an assault within a mile of the school's grounds last month.

Police increased patrols around the school after the first robbery was reported Nov. 10, said Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County Police Department spokeswoman.

Capt. Luther Reynolds, commander of the department's 5th District, said he had no details on the increased patrols, but Officer Marcus Dixon said he has been spending more time patrolling the area and talking to people at nearby businesses.

The incidents occurred from Nov. 10 to Nov. 22, after 2:10 p.m., when classes end, Baur said.

Montgomery police arrested a 16-year-old boy from Boyds and four 15-year-old boys from Germantown in the incidents, Baur said. Police are not saying whether the youths are Northwest students, and they are not releasing their names because they are minors.

A police officer assigned to the school and some parents say bullying might be to blame.

Russell Larson, a school resources officer with the Montgomery police who has patrolled five high schools in the department's 5th District since 2003, said the serious attacks are a type of bullying.

"The majority of Northwest students are good kids," Larson said. "It's just a small percentage that seems to be influential here. I want to be proactive and to assure students and family that a group of kids is not going to torment other kids."

Baur, however, said the crimes go beyond the scuffles and taunting that typically are considered bullying. Police are working with school representatives and parent groups on ways to prevent such behavior, including teaching students how to avoid being victimized and aggressors how to be accountable for their actions.

In the 2008-09 school year, Northwest reported more physical assaults as serious incidents and thefts than the other four high schools in the 5th District. Northwest reported eight assaults and 12 thefts; Seneca Valley reported four assaults and one theft; Damascus reported three assaults and one theft; Clarksburg reported three assaults and two thefts; and Poolesville reported no assaults and two thefts.

Susan Burkinshaw, co-chairwoman of the safety committee of the Montgomery County Parent Teacher Student Association, said she thinks the crimes are heightened bullying.

"We need to do something countywide and communitywide to make bullying go away," she said.

Although Larson and Burkinshaw said they think bullying is a factor in last month's crimes, Bob Hellmuth, director of safety and security for county schools, said police are responsible for the investigation because the attacks took place off campus. He declined to comment further.

Northwest Principal Lance Dempsey said she has zero tolerance for violence and bullying, and she is working with police to address the issues, even though the recent robberies did not occur on campus.

She emphasized that Northwest is "still safe" and that the school does not have bad students, just a few students who made bad decisions.

"For the past year and a half, I've worked diligently with parents, students and staff to work to create a transparent atmosphere so students know what is expected of them," Dempsey said.

Staff writer Danielle Gaines contributed to this report.

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