SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Officers from multiple agencies, in coordination with the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office, conducted a countywide truancy sweep Friday morning.
The sweep consisted of saturation patrols and in-home checks focusing on subjects in violation of School Attendance Review Board (SARB) contracts, truancy and daytime loitering ordinances throughout the county.
Deputy District Attorneys Don Pezza, Brie Durose and Agnes Murray helped organize the sweep that kicked off at 8 am. Officers from the following agencies participated: Chino Police, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Stations in Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Highland, San Bernardino and Barstow, Colton Police, San Bernardino City Unified School District Police, Redlands Police, Rialto Unified Public School Safety, Rialto Police, Fontana Unified School District Police, Fontana Police, Barstow Police, California Highway Patrol and the County Probation Department.
The officers made contact with approximately 146 students and ended up citing 162 students for daytime loitering. Nineteen students were cited or arrested for other offenses (see attached).
Those students who were cited were either cited and released on site or taken to various command posts set up throughout the county at Chino Hills Sheriff’s Station, Fontana, Rialto, San Bernardino, Colton, Redlands, and Barstow Unified School Districts.
While waiting to be processed, each student was counseled about the importance of attending school. In addition, police officers, probation officers, prosecutors and school district staff tried to speak to each family about available programs to help get these students back in school and on track for a successful future.
Deputy District Attorney Don Pezza, who helped coordinate the sweep, noted a 4.58% drop in truancy in San Bernardino County. According to the most recent statistics available by the California Department of Education, San Bernardino County’s truancy rate decreased from 38.22% in 2009-10 to 33.64% in 2010-11.
“I think we are gaining momentum and strength each year we continue to address the problem of truancy in our county by directly providing our local school districts with a prosecutorial arm to help enforce our state’s education laws,” said Pezza.
District Attorney Michael Ramos, who is a member of the executive committee of Fight Crime Invest in Kids, recognizes the link between truancy and dropping out of school and juvenile crime.
"Truancy leads to drop outs and being a drop out oftentimes leads to involvement in the criminal justice system either as a victim or a perpetrator," said Ramos. "We have found that if we can increase the graduation rates by just ten percent, we could cut violent crime by twenty percent.
Ramos added that in San Bernardino County alone, that means approximately 27 murders and 1,256 aggravated assaults prevented each year. Across the state this increase translates to 500 fewer homicides and 22,000 fewer aggravated assaults annually. (See attached Crime Prevention Facts).
To achieve these results, the District Attorney's office formed the Let's End Truancy Project (LET). The LET Project, which is funded through Assembly Bill 1913, allocates state resources annually to fund programs that address juvenile crime prevention and focus on public safety.
In 2011, attorneys from the LET Project sent out 13,720 letters to every family whose student had five or more unexcused absences or tardies or any combination thereof within 90 school days. The purpose of the letters is to inform the family that their student has been classified as a habitual truant under California law and that further unexcused absences from school could subject the parents or guardian to criminal prosecution (see attached sample letters).
"We want to send a clear message to children and their parents that school is important and required by law," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Bell, who oversees the Juvenile Division. "We don’t want to wait until the middle of the year or later when a child’s absences impact their academic performance negatively."
Bell says truant students could be cited by the police into court after all other means have failed, and the consequences for parents who are arrested for their child’s truancy include up to one year in county jail and/or a $2,000 fine for each child who is not in compliance.
At Friday's sweep, a representative from the District Attorney’s Office Juvenile Division was also available to discuss its Let’s End Truancy Program (LET) and the legal consequences of truancy for the students and their families. For more information about the LET program, please click here.
"It is absolutely critical that we continue to work together as a community to resolve the problem of truancy," said Ramos. "Today's combined efforts across the county should send a strong message about the value we place on education and our children's future."