Teens get a chance to speak out

Published 6:37 pm Friday, September 29, 2006

Teens get a chance to speak out
By Jeremy Pittari/Item Staff Writer
Those in charge seldom ask for the input of the youth of a community, but recently Picayune Memorial High School students were asked for their opinions and questions.
“We want to open up the line of communication for our city,” Police Chief Jim Luke said.
The Picayune Police Department has initiated a program via its website for teens to pose questions about how the city works or any other issues that may come to their minds. That program is called Teen 411 and a link to it can be found at http://www.picayunepolicedepartment.com/. City councilman Jerry Bounds said that if students have a question about the city government, the question can be asked at http://www.picayune.ms.us/index.htm via the e-mail link.
Thursday morning some PMHS students were given the chance to voice their concerns in a forum under the same umbrella as Teen 411.
During the forum, juniors and seniors asked questions and voiced their concerns to city officials. City council members, police officers, a school board member and members of the Picayune Fire Department were among those at the forum to respond.
One student asked about laws pertaining to police practices such as Operation Blue Line, asked by student Julie Hall. More controversial topics such as the gun found at the high school, brought up by student Don Pollitz, and the wet or dry vote, brought up by student Marshall Pace, also were covered.
Deputy Chief Tom Milar said Operation Blue Line was initiated to let residents, both new and old, know that the police department will not tolerate drug activity. Capt. Lawrence Krantz said the department still makes a narcotics arrest every day.
Pollitz asked Luke the hot question of the forum: “Should there be equal consequences for students who bring weapons to school.”
Luke said in a situation like that, the circumstances involved would have to be considered.
“As far as discipline or as far as the law, you need to be consistent all the time,” Luke said. “There again, there could be mitigating circumstances that I’m not aware of.”
However, all the students who voiced their opinion were in agreement that no matter the circumstances the zero tolerance policy stated in the school handbook should apply.
Luke then asked if a student went hunting and left the gun in the car and came to school with it, or if a parent had left a weapon in a vehicle and the student then brought the weapon to school unknowingly should the student still face the same penalties.
“I think so,” Pace said. “The handbook says that it’s strictly against the rules to bring a gun of any type, whether it is a water gun, a loaded gun, a toy gun or a dart gun.”
“I still don’t see how any mitigating factors could overrule a zero tolerance policy,” student Kasey Mitchell said.
Luke said if a student came to a judge in such a situation, the judge would look at the whole situation. However, Luke said he still believes there should be consistency of repercussions to actions.
What plans the city and county officials have to be prepared for future storms also came up. City Manager Ed Pinero said that while there is nothing anyone can do to prevent a hurricane, there are things that can be done to prepare. Last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Pinero said Picayune residents never lost water or natural gas service and efforts to maintain those same services will be made in future emergency situations.
Council member Anna Turnage said efforts are in the works to keep communication open between the north and south ends of the county.
“If you don’t have communication you can’t work together,” Turnage said.
DUI arrests were a concern to the students. Milar said that after the storm the number of arrests went up, including DUI’s. To help prevent DUIs, and not just related to alcohol, Milar said the department will use a new sobriety test that can detect whether a person is under the influence of cocaine, prescription pills or marijuana.
This topic brought Pace to his next question concerning the wet or dry vote coming up in November. He asked if the vote does legalize the sale of liquor, would it increase the number of DUIs.
Milar responded using the circumstances after Katrina as a reference. He said after the storm the sale of beer and ammunition were banned to avoid violent outbreaks. However, people just drove to Hancock county or Slidell and bought alcohol anyway. Currently, Pearl River County residents have access to alcohol in those same places, so if the vote legalizes sale of liquor in Pearl River County Milar said he does not expect it to be a major problem.
“We do not expect a spike in alcohol-related incidents,” Milar said.
Luke said it is currently illegal to transport alcohol across county and state lines.
Students told the Picayune Item they thought the forum gave them a chance to get tough questions answered.
“They had no problem giving us a direct answer on things that we need to know,” said student Julie Hill.
Other students felt that it gave them a chance to address concerns that they otherwise could not have addressed.
“Being under 18, very seldom do we have an opportunity to give our feelings about issues,” Mitchell said.
The only complaint about the way things are currently done at the school concerned stricter enforcement when drugs and weapons are brought on to school grounds, said Kortnie Trotter. She said she would like to see more done to ensure those items do not make their way into the school.