Reports to Collingswood police multiplied after call-911 policy started

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Wednesday, July 13, Emma Platoff, The Inquirer Daily News

Before they began following a controversial new student misconduct policy late this spring, Collingswood school officials called local police 32 times over nine months.

That figure stands in contrast to the 22 incidents reported after May 25, when the school district contacted law enforcement for nearly every incident of student misbehavior.

More than half of the calls between Sept. 3 and May 25 came from Collingswood High School, where incidents ranged from cellphone and bicycle thefts to marijuana possession, according to police incident reports obtained by the Inquirer on Tuesday. Four of five elementary schools in the district reported either one or no incidents to law enforcement during that period. And no elementary school students were questioned by police officers, the reports indicate.

During the last three weeks of school, from May 25 to June 17, police were called for incidents sometimes as minor as kindergarten fights. Out of the 22 incidents, students were questioned by police in 16 cases. Nine of those 16 involved questioning elementary school pupils.

The district of just under 2,000 students has since reversed the policy.

Mayor James Maley has said that an incident at the high school this spring, in which administrators reported potentially criminal student misconduct to police after a brief delay, spurred a May 25 meeting with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, after which the district adopted the new policy. He would not comment on the incident, which he said remains under investigation by the Prosecutor's Office.

The incident that prompted the session was a sexting accusation, according to a man whose daughter received explicit photos from a male high school student in early May.

Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey on Tuesday confirmed that incident was referred to the Prosecutor's Office. Asked whether it prompted the May 25 meeting, Carey declined to comment.

A 17-year-old boy from Collingswood was charged Tuesday with one count of endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly sending sexually explicit photos to six female Collingswood High students between May 6 and 8, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

According to the incident reports obtained Tuesday, police were called to Collingswood Middle School six times this school year before May 25. Three of those incidents involved bike theft, with others including suspicious online activity in which a student was accessing firearms websites, a case of suspected child abuse, and a possible drug transaction between two students.

Nearly the same number of police visits - five - were made to the middle school during the last few weeks of the academic year.

The police reports were not evenly distributed across the district's five elementary schools. James A. Garfield Elementary School, Thomas Sharp Elementary School, and Zane North Elementary School each saw only one police incident before May 25 of this year; Mark Newbie saw none, according to the reports.

But William P. Tatem Elementary School, which teaches grades K-5, called police five times between Sept. 3 and May 24 to report student incidents. Tatem, with 224 students, is only slightly larger than the next-largest elementary school, Zane North, which has 189.

Police questioned elementary school students in nine of 12 school incidents reported after May 25. In each case, police spoke to students without speaking to parents first. In one case, a student was questioned for allegedly making a racist comment about the brownies being served to his third-grade class. In another, a 9-year-old spoke to police after drawing a zombie holding a gun.

Student questioning by police has been many parents' chief complaint about the new policy. But Maley denied Tuesday that the district adopted a new stance on police interviews after May 25. Carey said Tuesday that police may interview minors without parental consent as long as their conversations do not constitute a formal interrogation.

Carey said the interviews police conducted with students after May 25 never rose to the level of true police "interrogations." Rather, police were "fact-gathering," he said.

None of the seven district principals or building administrators returned multiple requests for comment this week.

Parents will meet with school and borough leaders and County Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo at a public forum at 7 p.m. July 26.

Originally posted by The Inquirer Daily News