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Police to stop ticketing tardy students on their way to school

Los Angeles police agree to stop truancy sweeps during the first hour of class as focus shifts to encouraging attendance.

April 14, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Police Department has agreed to avoid ticketing tardy students who are on their way to school, lawyers and advocates for students announced Thursday.

The tickets, which carry steep fines, are exactly the wrong method for achieving better attendance, said those involved.

Under new and "clarified" procedures agreed to by the LAPD at the request of advocates for students, truancy sweeps will no longer occur during the first hour of classes. And daytime curfew sweeps cannot be conducted except in response to suspected criminal activity by youths in the sweep area.

Officers are to ask students if they have legitimate explanations for not being in class before writing tickets. Police are to shift their focus to making sure students get to school rather than ticketing them. The LAPD, community groups and lawyers will monitor how the approach is working.

"It is not our intention to target our youths or to place undue burdens on their families," said Chief Charlie Beck in a news release.

Finding the right balance between discipline and counseling has challenged officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District. A city attorney's program includes counseling but also carries the threat of criminal penalties for parents. And tickets, with a fine of more than $200, are intended as a financial deterrent. At Roosevelt High, a scared-straight method, abandoned last year, included handcuffing students, advocates said.

"It's teachers, parents and students who will ultimately change the culture of a school," said Manuel Criollo, lead organizer for the Community Rights Campaign, which has long focused on this issue. He praised the new approach at Roosevelt, which still includes selective discipline at school.

His group joined forces with Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California in working with the LAPD. Talks are ongoing with L.A. Unified.

City and school police issued more than 47,000 tickets from 2004 to 2009, 88% of them to African Americans and Latinos, according to data compiled by activists through public records requests. And not one of the more than 13,118 curfew tickets issued by the school police went to a white student, advocates said.

Gerardo Navarro was ticketed Friday at Roybal Learning Center. He ran late for about the sixth time this year, by his count, arriving 15 minutes past the bell. The ticketing process cost him 45 minutes more. He said friends stay home when they are running late to avoid getting ticketed. Dealing with a ticket also can consume school time.

School board member Tamar Galatzan, a deputy city attorney, said she welcomed "any agreement … that results in our students being in class, ready to learn, when the bell rings."

She also added: "The best way for students to avoid truancy tickets is to get to school — and be in class — on time."

howard.blume@latimes.com

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