Monday, February 28, 2011

Provo proposal would criminalize daytime truancy...

February 28th, 2011 @ 6:28pm
By Jared Page

PROVO — Six-year-olds being handcuffed and hauled off in police cars.

Home-schooled children getting detained by law enforcement because they're outside playing in park on a weekday.

And BYU students having to produce a student ID in order to grab lunch off campus.

"Our goal is to be proactive on gangs. We don't have a serious gang problem, and we like that. We want to be way ahead of this thing." -John Curtis, Provo mayor

Realistic or not, these are some of the concerns expressed in recent weeks by parents and other Provo residents regarding a proposal to criminalize daytime truancy for school-age minors.

The Provo City Council is considering an ordinance that would authorize police to issue citations to children ages 6 to 17 found to be truant. The offense would be punishable as a class B misdemeanor.

Provo Mayor John Curtis said the proposal emerged from discussions of the Provo Gang Task Force Steering Committee as a crime-prevention tool. Provo police say there's a link between truancy and daytime crimes, particularly those involving gangs.

"Our goal is to be proactive on gangs," Curtis said. "We don't have a serious gang problem, and we like that. We want to be way ahead of this thing."

Provo School District spokesman Greg Hudnall said the number of truancy cases being referred from the district to juvenile court has nearly doubled over the past five years.

In 2004-05, the district referred 110 students to juvenile court — the final step in the state's method for dealing with habitual truancy. In 2009-10, the district referred 211.

"We just see those numbers rising," Hudnall said. "This is our approach to try and help deal with something that's very serious."

But some Provo residents, particularly those with school-age children, say they believe the proposed action goes too far. They worry that children who are doing nothing wrong will be made to feel like criminals simply for being in public on a school day.

"The biggest problem I have with this ordinance is it will give Provo city police officers the authority to detain, interrogate and potentially arrest anyone who appears to be under the age of 18." -Gove Allen, Provo parent

"It's truly frightening," said Gove Allen, a Provo resident and parent. "The biggest problem I have with this ordinance is it will give Provo city police officers the authority to detain, interrogate and potentially arrest anyone who appears to be under the age of 18 and is in a public place within the city of Provo."

Concerned Provo residents like Allen and his wife, Veronica, have been flooding Mayor Curtis and members of the City Council with e-mails, calling on them to find another way to deal with truancy problems.

The Allens have organized a "peaceful protest" for 1 p.m. Tuesday outside Provo City Hall, 351 W. Center. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue during its 2:30 p.m. work session and possibly vote during the 7 p.m. formal meeting.

"Yes, we have a truancy problem, but this is not the way to solve it," Veronica Allen said. "There are too many potential problems with it."

Among those, she said, are home-school and charter school students, many of whom have different schedules than traditional elementary, junior high and high schools in the Provo School District.

"We should not have our police interrogating minors without a parent being there, and that's what they'll be able to do," Allen said.

Gove Allen, who also works as a professor at BYU, said some incoming freshmen at the university are younger than 18 — and even more of them look like they are underage.

"BYU students who live, work and go to places of business in the city of Provo are now going to be in a situation where a police officer can come up to them and say, 'You're in a public place. You look like you're under 18. I need you to demonstrate to me that you're allowed to be here in this public place at this time,'" he said.

"This is Germany in 1939 — show me your papers," Gove Allen said.

Provo City Councilman Sterling Beck has been adamantly opposed to the ordinance since it was first discussed in November. Beck grew up in Monrovia, Calif., the city that he said "pioneered these kinds of ordinances."

'Peaceful protest' planned for Tuesday
A "peaceful protest" against the truancy ordinance is planed for Tuesday afternoon.
  • Time: 1 p.m.
  • Location: Outside Provo City Hall, 351 W. Center Street.
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue during its 2:30 p.m. work session and possibly vote during the 7 p.m. formal meeting.

"As a home-schooled student, I actually got to witness first-hand how these ordinances can have unintended consequences on people outside of the school district," he said.

Beck, who was home-schooled for a few years in the early 1990s, said his experiences weren't as frightening as those of others he heard about. But they were bad enough to convince him that such an ordinance is not right for Provo.

"You were genuinely afraid to go out of your house during the daytime hours because you knew that, at very least, you would be questioned by a police officer for being outside," Beck said.

Mayor Curtis said city leaders don't want to see that happen in Provo. The City Council is taking its time to act on the ordinance, he said, because it is very aware of concerns some residents have with the ordinance.

"There's been a lot of clamor (about the proposed ordinance)," Curtis said. "Some of the e-mails I get, they talk about hauling elementary school kids off in handcuffs. That's not realistic. Nobody's having those kinds of discussions that would allow anyone to haul anyone off in handcuffs, let alone elementary school kids."

City leaders are open to any and all suggestions about dealing with truancy, the mayor said.

"How do we reduce truancy? What are our options? That's what people need to be asking," Curtis said. "This is just a thoughtful dialogue about this problem. We're not just throwing a new ordinance at it."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of charged words in here. Provo is not like Nazi Germany, nor will it ever be. As far as I know, the police all ready have the right to question anyone of any age in public places, if the officer/s isn't sure what is going on. He may verify that everything is sound.

Regarding "detaining & interrogating," I'd like to remind the public that that same thing happens after a car collision and when the police arrives on the scene. You are not excused until the officer excuses you. You are held at the location and questioned as to what occurred. You follow all the directions, if any, the police give you. You leave when he releases you.

The words "detained & interrogated" just sound scary. Your rights are not taken away, per se. You are just giving the law time to evaluate what's going on.

That said, this ordinance may be superfluous, since the law should all ready allow officers to question people in questionable circumstances. We don't need extra law to do that.