“Ensuring the safety of our youth is of critical importance,” 1 according to COPS Office Director Bernard Melekian, and the COPS Office is committed to improving school safety and reducing child victimization through a variety of grant funded programs as well as seeking those agencies in the field who are committed to the issues facing our children every day. One such example is the commitment of the Fulton County (GA) Police Department to develop a community policing model to prevent, identify, and intervene in truancy situations in targeted areas of South Fulton through their Truancy Reduction & Intervention Project (T.R.I.P).
There is a massive responsibility placed on our school system as classrooms no longer depend solely on teachers, but on teams of administrators, health care workers, security staff, and law enforcement professionals to successfully collaborate with the goal of keeping America’s children safe.2 Truancy is one of the first indicators of a child who is in trouble. Truancy has been correlated with teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and adult criminality. Truancy is also one of the most effective predictors of educational failure according to a 2002 report that showed that 80 percent of dropouts were chronically truant in the previous year.3 An estimated three out of ten high school students do not graduate from high school on time4 and of the 4.2 million Americans who turn 20 each year, 805,000 do not have a high school diploma or GED.5 Clearly this can have negative long term outcomes, as a 2006 report indicated that high school dropouts are 3½ times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested and 8 times more likely to be incarcerated.6
The negative impact of truancy significantly affects students, but also has negative outcomes for families, schools, and society. Families may lose children to gangs, risky behavior, and other nonproductive behavior. Schools show declining attendance rates and lose federal and state education funding. The community has a less educated workforce while crime by truants increases during school hours. The pipeline of citizens who can become contributing members of society is significantly reduced due to the impact of truancy.
The reasons for children choosing to “ditch” school are numerous but sometimes fear of violence can play a very important role. In 2007, 7 percent of students ages 12–18 reported that they had avoided a school activity or one or more places in school in the previous 6 months because of fear of attack or harm.7 During the 2007–2008 school year, 85 percent of public schools recorded that one or more incidents of crime had taken place at school.8 During the same year, 75 percent of public schools recorded one or more violent incidents of crime9 and 17 percent recorded one or more serious violent incidents.10 Thirty-eight percent of public schools reported at least one violent incident to police and 13 percent reported at least one serious violent incident to police.11 During the 2007–2008 school year, 25 percent of public schools reported that bullying occurred among students on a daily or weekly basis, and 32 percent of students ages 12–18 reported having been bullied at school during the school year.12
There are many national and local agencies working to identify the best strategies to address truancy and the surrounding issues, and those that are most successful include a broad-based collaborative effort where schools and communities work jointly and proactively to effectively tackle the problem of truancy. School officials, parents, politicians, law officials, courts, community organizations, and social services agencies must all be at the planning table to collaboratively develop targeted truancy intervention strategies.
The mission of the Fulton County T.R.I.P. is to reduce the number of truancies in South Fulton by creating a broad-based community and inter-agency team to address truancy. After witnessing the negative impacts of truancy on their students, families, high school graduation rates, workforce development, and entire community, the Fulton County Police Department partnered with Fulton County Schools to target high school students with the highest rate of unexcused absences. The Truancy Prevention Program team includes: Fulton County Housing & Human Services; Fulton County Police Department; Fulton County Schools Police Department; Fulton County Office of Communications; Office of the County Attorney; Office of the Fulton County District Attorney; Fulton County Juvenile Court; Fulton County Office of Grants & Community Partnerships; MARTA Suppression Unit; Truancy Intervention Project; parents; and community organizations.
The goals of this program are to reduce the number of students loitering in the community during school hours; reduce criminal activity of truants in Commission District 7 during school hours; educate and engage the community-at-large about the impact of truancy by working directly with truants and their families to address factors that contribute to truant behavior; and provide needs-based resource referrals to truant students and their families. This initiative uses a “choices and consequences” approach and builds on the strengths and resources within the South Fulton communities, such as:
Since its institution in October 2009, T.R.I.P has successfully processed over 250 youth through the program and has offered support services that have helped both the youth and their families.
The COPS Office
Fulton County Police Department
For more information on the Fulton County T.R.I.P. initiative, contact Captain Brian Casal at Brian.Casal@fultoncountyga.gov or 404.613.5714.
4Editorial Projects in Education. 2007. Ready for what? Preparing students for college, careers, and life after high school. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/media/ew/dc/2007/40national_SGB07.pdf
6Catterall, J. 1985. On the social cost of dropping out. Standard, CA: Center for Education Research; Bridgeland, J. M., J .J. Dilulio, & K. B. Morrison. 2006. The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises. Retrieved from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/nr/downloads/ed/TheSilentEpidemic3-06FINAL.pdf.