Students who continuously skip school next year could be targeted by Lawrence police.
In an effort to take a bite out of crimes committed by local juveniles, the Lawrence Police Department next fall will initiate an anti-truancy program.
Police officers would work in cooperation with assistant principals at Lawrence junior highs and high schools to round up truant students and return them to the classroom.
"We're putting together an outline for implementation in the fall," police Chief Ron Olin said.
Funding for the program will come from a $66,314 federal block grant and a local match of $7,370.
Olin said half of that $73,684 would be used to pay officers on an overtime basis to participate in the anti-truancy efforts. About $10,000 will be spent to store police reports on computer equipment, rather than on microfilm, which is the current practice. And about $20,000 will be spent on other community crime-prevention efforts.
Olin said he's hopeful the anti-truancy program will make a difference in the local crime rate during daylight hours.
"A very large percentage of crime occurs during business hours," he said, "and it would be helpful to take some of those people off the street. ... The hope is that the police department can be of some service in helping hard-core kids who don't wish to be students to have an incentive to go to school. We're helped right now with the new law that says if you're under 18 and don't have a high school education, you need to be in school."
Last year, the Legislature passed a comprehensive juvenile justice measure that increased the school attendance age from 16 to 18, or until a student graduated. The new age is scheduled to take effect in the 1997-98 school year.
Legislators are considering a bill that would lower that age back to 16. But the Legislature has taken no action on that reversal, according to state Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence.
Raising the compulsory attendance age to 18 would provide police with "a positive tool we've not had in the past," Olin said.
The chief met recently with Randy Weseman, assistant superintendent, to discuss the anti-truancy program.
"We're in agreement that this is a good concept," Olin said.
The chief said he didn't want to leave the impression that all children would be hauled back to school. It's only the students who systematically avoid classrooms that police and school officials will target, he said.
"This is not a case of two or three kids getting together to skip school on Friday and all of the sudden police will be on their trail," he said.
The federal grant should provide enough money for a 24-week program.
"It will be a Monday-through-Friday program at the onset of the school year, but that may not be maintained through the school year," Olin said.
Part of the anti-truancy efforts will involve contacting parents, he said.
"The police department cannot solve this problem any more than schools can by themselves," he said.
Good record-keeping will be important under this one-time grant.
"Our intent is to measure whether or not this is a successful program and if it is a successful program to approach the city commission to fund it in the future," the chief said.