Roswell has embarked on a police/community effort to solve problems through the cooperative efforts of the Mayor, City Council, the schools, city agencies, and the residents of this medium-size city in Southeastern New Mexico.
Police officers dealing with truants can now use an ordinance of the City of Roswell which requires "mandatory school attendance for any child (five to 17 years of age) required by law to attend school...." This ordinance was supported by Mayor Thomas E. Jennings, Chief of Police Ray Mounts and many others in the community including the City Council, the Roswell Independent School District, and officials from the Children, Youth and Families Department.
The ordinance was passed in an attempt to deal with truancy problems at the schools. These problems had become almost epidemic in certain areas of the city. Other measures, such as closing the campuses, putting a renewed focus on individualization and other changes were already being attempted by the school districts. However, a daytime curfew ordinance was seen as giving the Roswell patrol officer a ready tool to stop and question any children who looked as if they should have been in school. One officer said that, in effect, it provided "easier probable cause to stop kids."
Since the enactment of this ordinance in the fall of 1994 and the official initiation of community policing in January 1995, the Roswell Police Department has learned a number of things about its effect. These include, but are not limited to:
The daytime curfew ordinance has also been effective in the reinforcement of the school district's policy by placing the students into "in school suspension" (ISS). In ISS, the students must perform community service-related activities such as removing graffiti, picking up trash, and helping with other community projects. The students are not allowed to merely sit home or be on the streets, walking around while they are on suspension. Businesses in the areas of both high schools are now calling on a frequent basis about students who might possibly be truants. When they would call the police in the past about youngsters loitering on their grounds or in their facilities, the police officers were instructed to tell them to inform the Children, Youth and Families Department. However, little was ever done to intercede with those children on the spot, even though they were in violation of the New Mexico Compulsory School Attendance Law. The patrol officers and the community see this daytime curfew as being a quick and relatively easy way to intercede when a student has been truant.
The implementation of the daytime curfew ordinance is very helpful to the police department's efforts to reduce crime and the school district's attempts to reduce truancy. The idea of having an interaction with a law enforcement officer during the time of the offense is seen as a valuable learning tool because the behavior and the intervention are simultaneous.
In Chaves County, where Roswell is located, the Commission has decided to adopt a similar ordinance for use with those students who reside in the county. This was seen as especially important in order to prevent the city truants from merely taking their criminal activities to the county in order to avoid the Roswell Police Department. Preliminary results from the County Sheriff's Department suggest that this has been helpful to them as well.
Other cities in New Mexico and some cities in Arizona and California have already called the Roswell Police Department for information on the daytime curfew. They report that they are attempting to implement a similar ordinance in their cities, based on the apparent success of the Roswell and Chaves County ordinances.
As passed by the Roswell Council and signed by the Mayor, the ordinance allows for the parents or legal guardian of truant school children to be given a warning on the first violation, a $50 fine on the second violation, and a $100 fine on each subsequent violation. Parents are informed of these provisions upon the first warning and they appear anxious to prevent any further offenses, knowing that it will start costing them for each subsequent truancy. The parents, school officials and police department also see this ordinance as helping to identify and manage "borderline" teenagers who may be at risk for further criminal activity. When children are not in school, they tend to gravitate toward those activities which are only possible when they have no adult supervision.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (505) 624-4700
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.