Daytime curfew enforces accountability
on October 6, 2011
The ominous gray clouds creeping over the hills and dampness blanketing the city tell Sgt. Eddie Russell it’s going to be a slow day.
“Rain usually keeps them off the street,” he says from behind the wheel of his cruiser
But less than half an hour into his Tuesday morning patrol, Russell spots what appears to be two teenaged boys strolling down the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood. At first glance, they don’t seem to be breaking any laws – except that it’s between the hours of 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on a weekday, which means they are in violation of a citywide daytime curfew imposed on residents under 18.
A year ago this month the Richmond Police Department began enforcing the curfew in an attempt to curb youth crimes committed during school hours, while also protecting them from becoming victims.
“Most bad things happen to kids when they are not where they are supposed to be,” Russell said. “Our truancy numbers are directly related to our crime numbers.”
There has been a 3-percent reduction in juvenile arrests since the law’s implementation, according to Lt. Michael Booker, director of the department’s youth services division.
“It’s not significant, but it’s a reduction,” Booker said.
But beyond the stated intention of the ordinance, Booker said the underlying goal is to find the root of why kids aren’t going to school, to address the problem and to enforce accountability.
Once officers pick up someone in violation, the child is taken to Richmond Police Activities League, where he or she undergoes an assessment. Then both the child and parent appear in court, at which time a judge will make a recommendation. If grades are an issue, then tutoring at RYSE Center may be ordered. If there are deeper family issues affecting the home, family services may be in need.
The two round-faced teenage boys Russell stopped on this rainy fall day indeed turned out to be underage. One, born in 1995, hadn’t been to school for an entire year – although California law requires anyone under 18 to be enrolled.
“A lot of times the parents are unaware their child hasn’t been to school in a year,” Russell said.
Parents are required to pick up their kid from RPAL, and, ultimately, they are the ones who will be held accountable if the problem persists. Officers stopped 229 kids last year, of which 21 were repeat offenders. On a third offense, the court can charge the parent with a misdemeanor.
“They’re usually more worried about what their parents are going to say than about us,” Russell said.
Two kids have reached the three strike limit, but rather than charge the parents the judge ordered family counseling, which Booker said is working.
“Those kids are reengaged and doing well,” he said.
The accountability aspect is what differentiates this ordinance from previous truancy programs. In the past, the school would punish the student, sometimes with suspension, but then there was no follow-up. If the child stopped going altogether, no one might ever notice.
“They were slipping through the cracks,” Booker said. “Not anymore.”
The judge, school resource officers and district officials are all keeping tabs now. And authorities are in the process of assembling a review board to ensure even further collaboration.
Since the start of the school year, Russell estimated that officers have picked up 30 kids, an improvement from the past year that he attributed to getting the word out. At the beginning of the semester, officers explained the ordinance to students, teachers and parents during orientations and assemblies.
Earlier in his rounds Tuesday, Russell spied two girls wearing backpacks and headphones cutting across the park at 41st Street and Cutting Boulevard. He mounted the curb in his cruiser to go find out why they weren’t in school. A girl in neon pink converse said it was because she woke up late.
“If they’re making an attempt, we won’t pick them up,” Russell said. “If they’re walking the other way we pick them up.”
Parks are a prime location for finding ditchers, as are nearby restaurants and convenient stores.
Russell said most kids aren’t skipping the entire day, but rather a class or two – and some are just looking to grab a burrito on their lunch break. However, the Richmond district has a closed campus policy that prohibits them from leaving at any point without a pass.
Police can even charge stores for knowingly selling to underage kids during curfew hours – and have threatened to do so.
There are also the “kick-backs,” or as older generations may refer to them, “ditch parties.” Kids rotate between houses, depending on whose parents aren’t home, to hang out, listen to music, and sometimes use drugs and alcohol. Russell said those are typically only discovered if a neighbor calls it in, and last year officers busted less than a handful. Some kids, however, claim they are a daily occurrence.
“They are just so used to getting away with it they don’t think twice,” Russell said. “But that is going to change.”
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