Back to School
Spring 1994

Cities across the country are employing an old-fashioned approach to combating teen violence: cracking down on truant schoolchildren. “A significant number of truants are involved in criminal activities of all types,” said New York Police Commissioner William Bratton as he announced a plan to assign an officer in each of the city’s 75 precincts to patrol on school days looking for truants. Those who are caught will be returned to school and their parents notified.

In Philadelphia, where the school district had laid off all but one of its 47 truant officers, city and transit police look for school-age children in public places, then take them in handcuffs to one of six truancy centers at public schools, where counselors interview them and try to contact parents.

Other cities, including Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Washington, also have active antitruancy programs. San Jose, California, which has had such a program since 1983, reports astonishing success: an average 98 percent school attendance rate (the nationwide average is 90 percent, and many urban areas are substantially lower). The San Jose district attributes its success to a comprehensive program of monitoring truants to discourage repeat offenses, including having parents or a police officer escort the youngsters to school.

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