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Provo considering daytime curfew to reduce truancy

Published January 15, 2011 7:15 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Police Sgt. Matt Siufanua sees daytime curfews as another tool for disarming gangs.

Siufanua, supervisor of the Provo Police Department's school resource officers, learned about daytime curfews at a recent conference. He passed on the information to members of the city's gang task force, who said it was something Provo should try.

"One of my biggest pushes [for the ordinance] is that it would help curb youth crime in the day by motivating them to go to school, either by citation or arrest," Siufanua said.

But Municipal Councilman Sterling Beck sees it differently. From his perspective, such an ordinance could mean that police would harass home-schoolers.

"Obviously, [daytime curfew ordinances] are written with the best of intentions, but they end up targeting people attending charter schools and home schools," he said.

As a result of his concerns, the council is now looking at an ordinance proposal that would make truancy a secondary offense; an officer would have to stop the child for another suspected crime before adding on the truancy charge.

Ogden, Roy and Weber County already have a daytime curfew, which allows police to stop and cite youth from 6 to 18 years who are truant.

"[Ogden] had vandalism and gang problems, and it was one way to keep the kids off the streets and in schools," Siufanua said.

In Provo, 865 students — roughly 6.5 percent of the total enrollment —were deemed to be truant during the 2009-10 school year, according to statistics filed with the Utah Office of Education.

Provo is also trying to address a gang problem. Greg Hudnall, special services director, earlier told the council that elementary school-age children are now being recruited by gangs.

The daytime curfew is one of several steps the city is considering to address gangs. Other steps include cracking down on graffiti and banning loitering.

Siufanua said the district now handles truancy cases, but the curfew ordinance would give the district more help in finding and handling truants.

Beck bases his concern on personal experience. Growing up as a home-schooler in Monrovia, Calif., Beck said he was stopped and questioned by police when he was out during the day.

A daytime curfew could infringe on home-schoolers' rights, subjecting them to being stopped for no other reason than being out, Beck said.

It's an opinion shared by other home-schooling advocates.

"The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution proscribes any investigation of a citizen without probable cause," stated a 2007 policy analysis published by the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Under curfew ordinances, police are not bound by this principle. They have the authority to stop, question and possibly cite anyone who appears to be young enough to be violating the law."

The association said such ordinances indiscriminately punish youth and force them to prove they have a legal right to be in a public place.

Paul T. Mero, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, said the ordinance, even with truancy downgraded to a secondary offense, appears to be poorly crafted.

"It is unfortunate that Provo, one of the happiest places on earth, would have to have an ordinance addressing truancy," Mero said.

He also questioned what offenses police might consider to justify a secondary truancy offense.

Siufanua does not see the proposed ordinance as giving cops license to hassle kids. For one thing, officers are too busy to stop every teen or preteen they see on the street.

"We're too busy taking calls," Siufanua said. "This is more of a tool for the resource officers."

Siufanua isn't a fan of making truancy a secondary offense. In his view, it would defeat the proposed ordinance's purpose: preventing crime.

As a secondary offense, he said, officers couldn't charge truancy until another crime was committed.

dmeyers@sltrib.com

twitter.com/donaldwmeyers —

What's next?

P The Provo Municipal Council will discuss the daytime truancy proposal at its study meeting, Tuesday, 4 p.m.