When developing programs designed to prevent and/or respond to the problems of violence in our schools, we often find that the most simple of solutions are in fact the most effective. Detroit's program, as described herein, is a low-cost, easily replicated program. Simple, yet as you will see, very effective.
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
Detroit's program is structured on strict enforcement of a city Anti-Truancy Ordinance. Under the tenons of the ordinance, students under the age of sixteen or who are 16 or 17 and registered in a day school program, are required to be in school during their regularly scheduled school hours.
Students found on the public streets, in restaurants, arcades, malls or any other public place not in compliance with the terms of the ordinance, will be detained and conveyed to a police facility. Juveniles under the age of 17 are issued tickets and held until they can be picked up by a parent or guardian If the juvenile has had two or more previous contacts for truancy, the parent or guardian will be issued a ticket for failing to ensure their student's compliance with the ordinance.
Tickets issued to juveniles under the age of 17 can be referred to a Saturday "Truancy Court," where they must appear with their parents to hear guest speakers and receive counseling on the topic of staying in school. Tickets issued to students who are 17 as well as tickets issued to parents, are referred to District Court where they can be fined up to five hundred dollars ($500) and be sentenced up to 90 days in jail.
2. When was the program created and why?
This program was developed by line supervisors assigned to the Special Enforcement Section during the 1989-1990 school year. It was a response to officers' concerns with the involvement of school age children in criminal activity, either as a victim or perpetrator, during the hours that they should have been in school.
Initially, this program was carried out exclusively by officers assigned to the Special Enforcement Section. Over the years, however, precinct school officers became aware of this enforcement tool, and many adopted it as an effective enforcement tool. By the 1993-1994 school year, enforcement of the anti-truancy ordinance was adopted as a department wide enforcement policy. In addition to the Special Enforcement Section, Precinct Commanders were required to institute procedures that would ensure universal compliance.
3. How do you measure the program's effectiveness?
Anecdotally, officers have noted that enforcement of the anti-truancy ordinance has resulted in school campuses free from loitering and disruptive behavior. Further, the officers now have an effective tool to deal with disorderly behavior in the neighborhoods and/or business community.
Since city-wide enforcement of the anti-truancy ordinance was instituted, the City of Detroit has witnessed a dramatic and continued decrease in shootings involving youths 1 6 years old and under. From 1992 through 1994, Detroit's youth involved shootings rose steadily from 284 in 1992 to 293 in 1993. Finally, in 1994, Detroit reached a high of 302 youths shot (28 fatal and 274 non-fatal).
However, since 1995, there has been a steady decrease in youth related shootings resulting in a low of 130 youths shot in 1997 (17 fatal and 113 non-fatal). This trend continued into 1998 with the first half of the year (1/l/98 - 6/30/98) ending in 51 youths shot, only two fatally.
Although we do not suggest that the anti-truancy enforcement was the sole precipitating factor in the dramatic decrease in youth related shootings, all involved parties recognize the procedure as a leading factor. We see it as no coincidence that the city wide adoption of this procedure was followed closely by the 57% decrease in shootings from l994 through 1997 as documented above.
4. How is the program financed?
This program is now part of the standard operating procedure of the Detroit Police Department. As such, it is funded as part of the Detroit Police Department budget. Its continued success is dependent upon the Precinct Commanders ensuring that their officers continue to aggressively enforce the antitruancy ordinance.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?
As a department procedure, the community, as such, is not involved in the implementation of this program. However, the effects of this enforcement do not end with the police. Parents, who often are not aware of the level of their child's truancy, are required to respond to a police facility to retrieve their child. Further, when the child is required to appear in court (either juvenile or district court), the parent is required by the court to attend. In addition, school officials are notified by arresting officers that a student registered at their school has been detained for skipping school. Finally, district court judges, with very few exceptions, require 17 year olds to provide documentation of an improvement in grades and attendance before the violation is removed from their record.
The general community response to the Detroit Police Department's institution of this program has been extremely positive.
6. Contact person:
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.