Profile No. 57

West Contra Costa Unified School District Truancy Enforcement Program -- Richmond, CA

Program Type or Federal Program Source:
Program to change attitudes about guns and violence.

Program Goal:
To decrease the truancy rate within the student population of the West Contra Costa Unified School District and enhance the role of the law enforcement community in the overall battle against truancy.

Specific Groups Targeted by the Strategy:
At-risk and truant youth ages 6 to 18.

Geographical Area Targeted by the Strategy:
West Contra Costa Unified School District, CA.

Evaluated by:
East Bay Public Safety Corridor Partnership, Oakland, CA.

Contact Information:
Officer Larry Lewis
Richmond Police Department
401 27th Street
Richmond, CA 94804
Phone: 510­620­6642

Years of Operation:

The West Contra Costa Unified School District (W.C.C.U.S.D.) has long experienced problems of chronic school truancy and high rates of juvenile delinquency. The district encompasses 6 cities (the largest being Richmond, north of San Francisco) and serves 31,348 students, of whom 51 percent are from low-income families (qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches) and more than 75 percent are African-American, Latino, or other minorities.

In 1995, more than 16 percent of the total student body was designated chronically truant as a result of three or more consecutive unexcused absences. Using crime-mapping techniques, police identified a strong relationship between truancy and juvenile crime activities. Juvenile burglary rates were particularly high during school hours, a problem attributed to large numbers of youth being out of school. However, in 1996, only 41 percent of youth on probation were enrolled in school, 44 percent had dropped out of the school district entirely, and there were no school records on the remaining 15 percent.

The Truancy Enforcement Program is a cooperative effort of six county law enforcement agencies, the County Probation Department, and W.C.C.U.S.D. and is coordinated by the Richmond Police Department. Police officers conduct intensive sweeps throughout the school district and deliver truant youth to the School Welfare and Attendance Team (SWAT) office, where probation staff and district school staff assess the level of truancy of each youth based on school records and determine a course of action. Parents are called and must pick up their children to return them to school. Youth who have not been enrolled in school are either enrolled in school at that time or placed in one of the alternative school programs. Parents and youth are counseled regarding the State Education Code's compulsory attendance requirements and are provided with recommendations for remediating truancy and nonenrollment problems. Youth with a history of chronic truancy are referred to the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB), which is made up of nine representatives from social service agencies and youth-serving organizations. Parents and students are required to attend a hearing before SARB to discuss factors contributing to the student's poor attendance (e.g., fear of violence, illiteracy, substance abuse) and to institute a contracted plan of action.

In a recent study of factors contributing to school truancy, 80 percent of youth surveyed said they feared the trip to and from school. The students said that going to school forced them to cross the 'turf' of hostile gangs and that they often skipped school rather than risk violence. Half of the respondents said they knew a close friend or family member who had died violently, had overdosed on drugs, or had been harmed as a result of gang conflict.

-- Resource Development Associates,
Reclaiming Our Children and Families: A Comprehensive Truancy and Delinquency Reduction Strategy for West Contra Costa County, 1997.

In addition to the intensive sweeps to pick up truant youth, local police officers are encouraged to make contact with all youth on the street during school hours. Students without a written excuse for being out of school are transported to the SWAT office.

The multiagency truancy enforcement efforts were immediately productive. In the first 4-day intensive sweep, March 11­14, 1996, 175 youth were picked up, of whom 118 were taken to the SWAT office, 26 were taken directly to school, 25 were taken home, and 6 were arrested. Two months later (May 13­17), another 4-day sweep netted 176 youth: 84 were taken to the SWAT office, 42 were taken back to school, 46 were taken home, and 4 were arrested. At third sweep, November 19­21, 1996, resulted in 110 youth being taken to the SWAT office, taken back to school, or returned home. More than 460 youth were picked up in the 1996 sweeps; 669 youth were picked up in three sweeps conducted in 1997; and in 1998, three intensive sweeps resulted in 840 youth being returned to school. In addition to the intensive truancy sweeps, officers of all six enforcement agencies have stepped up regular beat activity (by 35 percent since the previous year) by identifying and picking up truant youth whom they see or who are reported to be on the streets.

Student enrollment figures increased by 1,561 students (a 5-percent increase) from 1994­95 to 1997­98 (an increase attributed partly to the truancy enforcement program and population growth), and the rate of truancy dropped dramatically. The program is reported to have evoked a positive response from the entire school community. Police appreciate the program because it helps keep youth off the streets and reduces juvenile crime. Responses from parents of truant students have been overwhelmingly positive. In addition, community residents regularly call the SWAT office to report that youth are on the streets during school hours. The program is not punitive, and even the youth have acknowledged that they prefer to be in school.

The Richmond Police Department's role in the Truancy Enforcement Program is one component of the city's initiative to reduce gun violence. The W.C.C.U.S.D. Truancy Enforcement Program is also being replicated by other cities in the East Bay Corridor.

Finally, the East Bay Public Safety Corridor Partnership (see profile 5) is assisting W.C.C.U.S.D. in developing a comprehensive Truancy Reduction Program that includes the Truancy Enforcement Program, SafeFutures Probation Aftercare, Family/Schools Community Partnership, Girls Mentoring, and Family Preservation Services.

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