- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

As the school year comes to a close, the Metropolitan Police Department is assessing its efforts in driving down the District’s 23.46 percent truancy rate and juvenile crime rate.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he is “really focusing” on truancy enforcement, noting that his officers have picked up more than 4,300 truants in the past 17 months — including about 1,200 since Jan. 1.

Public school officials said 1,460 truants were picked up during the 2003-04 school year.

“I believe there is a link between truancy and juvenile crime,” Chief Ramsey said. “Having kids in school keeps them out of trouble — as offenders or as victims of crime.”

However, the District’s focus on keeping schoolchildren off the streets isn’t being reflected in the suburbs, where truancy rates are lower and police involvement in enforcing truancy laws varies.

Officer Bud Walker, spokesman for the Fairfax County Police Department, said picking up truants is a small part of regular police duties.

“For us, it’s more incidental,” Officer Walker said. “Unless we get some kind of instructions from a truancy officer or if there’s been a juvenile petition, we would just return them to school.”

For the 2003-04 school year, Fairfax County’s truancy rate was 0.6 percent.

Arlington County Police spokesman Matthew Martin said the department has no policy for picking up truants. An officer who spots truant students is authorized to take them back to school, he said.

Arlington’s truancy rate was 0.02 percent last year.

In Prince George’s County, where the truancy rate was 1.8 percent, police did not respond to requests for interviews.

According to the school system’s policy guidelines, most recently updated in 1994, county police “agreed to stop and question, at their discretion, during regular school hours, children at large in the community who appear to be under 16 years of age and truant.”

If the students are truant, police are directed to take them back to school.

Officer Julia Gilroy, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Police, said officers generally work with the school system.

“We don’t have any specific policies on truancy,” she said.

The truancy rate in Montgomery County was 0.9 percent last year.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts are required to report their truancy rates to the federal government.

D.C. school officials reported a 23.46 percent rate for last school year. However, The Washington Times has reported that the school system’s statistics do not correspond with its attendance records, and school officials have acknowledged poor record-keeping practices.

Still, Metropolitan Police have picked up thousands of truants and have made a little more than 1,000 juvenile arrests, a slight decrease from 2004, Chief Ramsey said.

Juveniles also were the victims of crime in alarming numbers. Last year, 24 children younger than 18 were killed in the District.

So far this year, there have been five juvenile homicides, down from 13 young victims at this time last year.

D.C. officials say police agencies are looking for truants in every corner of the city, including subway stations and the National Zoo.

Officer Linda Foxwell, spokeswoman for the Metro Transit Police Department, said officers are on the lookout for truants but have to be trained in the policies of each of the regional jurisdictions they patrol.

She said one drawback is that if officers find a student who should be in a school in one jurisdiction truant in another jurisdiction, they are not allowed to take the student back to school.

She said nine truants were taken to schools or truant centers in 2004. Three were “contacted,” meaning that they were stopped in a different jurisdiction from where their school was.

So far in 2005, five students were taken back to schools or truant centers. Two were contacted.

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