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Changes in approach to truancy David Bejarano | Sat, Aug 18 2012 12:00 PM

This letter is in response to your article of Aug.11, "Police needlessly harassing teens". The article did not provide an accurate description of the ordinance nor the Chula Vista Police Department's enforcement policy.

Chula Vista’s Daytime Truancy ordinance was enacted in 1998 with the support of the Sweetwater Union High School District, the San Diego District Attorney and the Superior Court of California. The ordinance was intended to enhance the community’s ability to deal with truancy issues by expanding the working partnership between law enforcement and the school districts. The ordinance is used as a tool to keep juveniles out of harms way (keeping them from becoming involved in criminal activity during school hours, becoming a victim themselves, and keeping them in a safe learning environment).

A variety of studies conducted since 1991 have provided a wealth of evidence that juvenile crime can be linked to juvenile truancy. In fact since 1991 truancy has been identified as one of the early warning signs that students are headed for potential delinquent activity, social isolation or educational failure.

Incidents of juvenile truancy create a burden upon the health, safety, and welfare of the entire community. Students absent from school are denied an education; unexcused absences result in a loss of state and federal funding to the detriment of all students; unsupervised students may involve themselves in unsafe activities by loitering in residential neighborhoods, business districts, or industrial centers; and some unsupervised students may engage in criminal activity to the detriment of the community; further, some unsupervised students may become a burden on police who must return them to school, wait for parents to pick them up, and investigate any and all criminal activity related to the student’s truancy.

While the original law did not include exceptions for the great variety of alternative educational systems that exist today, the Chula Vista Police Department has been working since 2011 on a complete review and update of the ordinance.

In the past the school district partnered with the Police Department to conduct periodic “sweeps” for truant minors that were skipping school. However since 2011 usage of the Daytime Truancy ordinance has dropped significantly. The Police Department no longer routinely conducts truancy sweeps and many “contacts” for truancy are handled informally between the parents and the school districts, without the need for fines or a court hearing. In addition, the proposed changes to the ordinance are intended to include specific provisions for alternative students like those mentioned in your article.

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Karla Jensen Says:

Mon, Aug 20 2012 03:34 PM

My letter was not intended to portray a negative reflection of Chief Bejarano's current department. Not only does this ordinance pre-date his position as Police Chief, but I was quite clear in explaining that the officer who picked up my son was only following the law. My description of the CVPD's enforcement of the daytime curfew was correct as it was applied to my son, his classmates, and related to me by countless other students and alternative school staff. I don't recall making any statements about the curfew ordinance other than the following; "(CV Muni Code #9.09.050) had an exemption that applied specifically to alternative students, making it a violation for them to be in public during the curfew except for travel directly to and from their school", and I believe that I also correctly summarized this part of the ordinance.

When this ordinance was enacted back in 1998, it is likely that its supporters never even understood its implications as they applied to alternative students. Superintendent Ed Brand, whose own school district would've been the most affected by the curfew, apparently didn't question the exception directed at alternative students. Because neither he or the city council ever addressed this exception or asked for clarification, I can only assume that no one involved truly understood its implications - except the police department.

Since then, alternative schools have continued to grow and evolve as our communities need's have changed. It's unreasonable to expect police officers to constantly stay abreast of all of the changes within our educational system. Even a previous director of your SRO had no idea that this curfew contained an exception for home school students! This is why daytime curfews make fundamentally bad public policy; they tend to be complicated and unevenly enforced. There are some well-meaning officers who understandably sympathized with the dilemma I described, so instead of issuing citations they simply told the non-truant alternative students to go home. While this could be viewed as a refection of their compassionate side, I think this is a insidious practice. Allowing this method of enforcement to continue keeps this issue underground and ensures that your department has no public record of how many non-truant kids are being unfairly confined to their homes.

All of this however, is in the past. It is 2012 now, and hopefully we have an opportunity to address and correct this ordinance.

While I appreciate that you shared the information that your department no longer routinely conducts truancy sweeps, I think it was misleading for your response to redirect the point of my story to the topic of truancy and juvenile crime, because I was only addressing the daytime curfew as it is applied to non-truant students. To be clear, my personal experience with this ordinance is that it is unfairly punitive to non-truant alternative students - whether financially through citations, or restricting their freedom by ordering them to return home.

I may not have brought up the topic of truant students, but nonetheless, I do have serious doubts about the many broad assumptions that you claimed. What I do know, is that absent a daytime curfew, your department (and every single police department in the state of California) has always had the legal right to make contact with juveniles who appear to be truant (CA Ed Code 48264), and as such, I find Chula Vista's current curfew law to be duplicative, overreaching, and overly punitive. More importantly, studies have shown that a juvenile's early exposure to the criminal courts system (which is what a curfew citation will entail) has the unintended result of CREATING high school drop-outs. (Source: "Who Will Graduate? Disruption of High School Education by Arrest and Court Involvement" by Gary Sweeten)

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