The Star-News

Looking after truants

Sat, Sep 01 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

The Aug. 10 letter from Karla Jensen piqued my interest because it dealt with police. It was welcome relief from the sniping, backbiting letters from the "citizen watchdogs" excoriating one faction or other of government or finding fault with local projects. This is not to say those letters are not a good thing, but their presence is fairly predictable.
I called Lt. Phil Collum who told me Ms. Jensen was a driving force in getting the city ordinance on truancy changed. It is being discussed by the Safety Commission and reviewed by the city attorney.

Talking with Jensen is another matter. Taking four Advil after the conversation almost did the trick. She is a fanatic, but one that I grew to respect when our dealings were done. She saw something she perceived as wrong and set about to change it, never accepting “no” for an answer. No one could question her commitment, passion, or staying power. And, based on her efforts, something positive is being done. Positive change rarely comes without a fanatic as a driving force, difficult as the person might be.

The incident of her son’s alleged arrest happened in 2010.

I believe that is not true, although Jensen said she did research indicating if you’re not free to leave you are under arrest. I didn’t want to split hairs with her, because I don’t have that many to split.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of a judge of the San Diego juvenile court I contacted, her son was “detained and released.” He has no arrest record now, no arrest report was filed. The detention was held under the auspices of the Sweetwater School District during a sweep and not something decided upon by a lone police officer. Briefly stated, her son attends an alternative school and was detained at a 7-11 while on his way to school in late morning.

The officer drove Jensen’s son and a companion to school, verified that he attended the school, gave him a short lecture, and went on her way. Actually, the ordinance, poorly written as it might be, says the kids have to go straight to school with no stopping at stores, even if the store is on the way to the school. (This store was on the direct route.)
Jensen said alternative school kids are “paying a high price for persecution.” I had to draw the line there and throw a penalty flag for “excessive drama.” Persecution? Come on! If a police officer sees a school-age kid in my neighborhood on a school day during school hours that officer better be stopping them and finding out why they aren’t in school.

The best method of handling what Jensen wrote about would be a phone call to the school attendance clerk to verify registration. If the child is in alternative, and they are within reasonable parameters of the ordinance, then be on your way. Jensen said she has spoken with several school resource officers and found they have different approaches. Some said they would call the school on their cell phone. One other said the cell phone was his private property and he wasn’t going to use it for police business.

Back in my day we would have the dispatcher call the school and verify enrollment. Lt. Collum said it can and should be handled the same way today.

I spoke with Jose Sanchez, the truancy intervention program manager for the SweetwaterHigh School District. He said no paperwork was involved with Jensen’s child. Once the situation was resolved, the officer left and the child went to class.

Jensen also accused the police of favoritism involving minimum day for Bonita Vista students on the street who were not detained. I didn’t buy that because the entire school was dismissed at the same time. There was no favoritism there. The cops knew school was out.

As I said, the truancy curfew issue is being reviewed now. We’ll see what changes come.

Basinski is a former Chula Vista police officer.

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