Why Safe Passage is a good start

Illinois committed $10 million this year towards its Safe Passage program. The program employs workers who help Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students travel to and from school in a safe manner. The program was initially created because of the high criminal activity and gang violence within Chicago neighborhoods, and in the past, many CPS students were injured or killed while commuting to school. Last summer, approximately 50 CPS schools were closed, creating more concern for the safety of students as some students now have longer commutes to new locations to attend school. With the additional funding for Safe Passage, the program expanded to a total of 133 Safe Passage routes this year, and approximately 600 more Safe Passage workers were hired.

Statesman recognizes the importance of attempting to make Chicago a safer area for the students. From 2011 to 2012, 304 students were shot and 27 were killed while traveling to and from school. While the numbers have been decreasing, 191 students were shot and 24 killed in the previous school year. This is in part due to the prominent gang violence in many neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Statesman believes the new Safe Passage routes may assist in preventing some of this violence, helping students feel safer and possibly increasing their school attendance. The Safe Passage routes and workers may also make students feel more protected, decreasing the chances of students joining gangs to receive the benefits of gang protection. Some gangs may also attempt to recruit students as they commute between their homes and school, and the presence of Safe Passage workers may minimize recruitment, in addition to adding general security along the routes.

While Statesman believes committing more money to the Safe Passage program is a step in the right direction, Statesman is unsure of how much this will help due to the lack of qualifications of the workers. The Safe Passage workers often stand by themselves on crime-ridden streets unarmed. The application process for the workers varies with each location, but typically requires the candidate to pass a CPS Background Check which includes looking to see if the candidate has the capacity to create relationships with students and a desire to help the community. This raises a concern on their actual ability to help students if there’s a serious physical threat. Although having armed police officers protecting the area may lead to more tension with the gangs and overall violence, Statesman believes that simply having unarmed workers may not be effective enough, and the money going to Safe Passage should be spent towards getting more a physically qualified staff.

Statesman is also conflicted on how this additional money will contribute towards making the entire city safer. In a survey conducted by University of Chicago in 2011 researching students in sixth through twelfth grade, the students felt the most safe in their classrooms. However, they felt the least safe just outside of their schools—not while traveling between home and school— where there is little adult supervision. At Lake Erie High School, 60 percent of students felt safe in their classrooms, 45 percent felt safe while commuting but only 30 percent felt safe just outside of school. Based on the results of this survey, it may be important to increase the supervision closer to these schools. This survey also suggests that creating after school programs may benefit students who felt unsafe at home. While criminal activity is prominent during school hours, it is also prominent in Chicago as a whole, making it difficult for students to feel safe even within their neighborhoods.

While Statesman recognizes how the additional money for the Safe Passage routes is a good start in helping the students, Statesman believes more qualified workers and a greater attempt to reduce the overall criminal activity within Chicago may not only increase the quality of CPS, but also benefit students’ lives.