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City looks to crack down on truancy, will impose daytime curfew

on April 7, 2010

It will soon be unlawful for children to roam the streets during school hours.

A unanimous City Council on Tuesday adopted an ordinance that enacts a daytime curfew for school kids.

The move was hailed by city leaders as a key step toward reducing truancy, juvenile crime and perhaps even drop-out rates.

“This is not at all meant to criminalize kids,” Richmond Police Sgt. Bisa French said Wednesday morning. “The contact will not go on their record as being arrested. The design here is to help keep kids inside and in school during school hours.”

While local elected leaders and the police officials are solidly behind the curfew, which has been negotiated at several meetings in recent months, community advocates and legal experts have cautioned against the measure.

Critics of the ordinance say giving police the power to contact kids merely for being in public during school hours will disproportionately affect poor and minority children, and may lead to negative interactions between law enforcement and neighborhood kids.

The curfew approved Tuesday will not take effect until next school year at the earliest, French said.

Councilman Nat Bates said he voted for the measure because it serves two purposes.

“I see this as an opportunity,” Bates said. “One, these young people should be in school getting an education. And two, they should not be out in the community being potentially involved in criminal behavior.”

What is clear is that many potentially key details remain unresolved.

French said early proposed processes that may be adopted include partnerships with two local youth organizations, which would serve as “receiving centers” for minors picked up by police for violating the curfew.

The two front-runners for the partnership are the RYSE Center, a local youth education facility on 41st Street and MacDonald Avenue, and the Police Activities League, French said.

“These could be receiving centers where resources would be provided to the students and it could be determined why they’re not in school,” French said.

Also still undetermined is the severity of fines, which could be issued against the parents of children caught violating the curfew. Police Chief Chris Magnus has said previously that parents would be forced to pay fines or do community service only after “repeated” violations.

“There are still a lot of questions,” French said. “The receiving centers, what the fine will be. We will be working with the school district and the city attorney to move forward with these logistics.”

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