An increase in the number and severity of calls around four west-side junior high schools has prompted a call from Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder for more funding.
Part of Winder's 2008 budget proposal calls for $216,000 to hire two full-time deputies to be assigned to junior highs in Magna and Kearns. The schools are Thomas Jefferson Junior High, Kearns Junior High, Brockbank Junior High and Matheson Junior High.
But Winder says he is not trying to suggest the problems at those schools are any worse than in other parts of the county.
"We would like to move to a model where the junior highs are getting more service. The west side seemed like a good place to start with the initiative," he said.
The problems those schools are seeing include gang activity, some bullying and "general disruption in and around the school," Winder said.
Winder also is asking for another $108,000 to hire a full-time deputy to help the narcotics unit, which is facing "substantial increased heroin trafficking into junior highs and high schools," according to the budget proposal.
But the sheriff is quick to add he is not trying to be an alarmist, and that saying mass amounts of heroin are being shipped into schools is inaccurate.
"I don't want to paint this as a crisis," he said. "I'm not saying 12-year-olds are out selling heroin in the hallways."
Despite what is written in the budget proposal, the drug problem is actually more valleywide and not specifically in the schools, Winder said. Although he noted that some juveniles who get hooked on OxyContin sometimes turn to heroin, he does not believe that is a big problem in junior high schools.
"I think what we're seeing predominantly in the junior highs is marijuana. Occasionally we see meth and some heroin," Winder said.
According to the budget proposal, the sheriff's narcotics unit has seen a 62 percent increase in drugs seized, a 59 percent increase in cash seized and 22 percent increase in arrests for the first half of 2007 over the same time last year.
The budget does not specify if those arrests are for all drug cases in the county or just for the area around the schools.
Granite School District spokesman Randy Ripplinger said statistics from the state show the number of drug and alcohol "incidents" for all secondary schools in the state on school property actually decreased from the 2001-2002 school year to the 2005-2006 year, the most recent data available.
But Ripplinger said the district supports any effort by the sheriff for increased patrols, especially if there is drug activity in the neighborhoods surrounding the schools.
"If that's going on by students outside of school, that's still a very high concern for us," he said.
Keeping tabs on the schools is the department's way of being more proactive, Winder said.
"We perceive that where the real need in the valley is the mid-level traffickers ... street-level narcotics suppression," Winder said. "The meat and potatoes is getting the dealer selling the mid-level amount."