Waco ISD student tickets slashed by half
Sunday May 6, 2012
In one year, Waco school district officers have reduced by nearly half the number of citations they are writing for student offenses.
Officials say the drop in student tickets is because of the district police department doing things a little differently and some alternative discipline programs that Waco Independent School District is piloting for the Governor’s Office.
Ticketing of students came under scrutiny by Texas lawmakers last year when a group called Texas Appleseed, which does research and advocacy related to social and economic justice issues, released a report that shed some light on the practice of ticketing.
According to the report, each year more than 275,000 non traffic tickets are issued to Texas youths. The majority are for offenses such as disruption of class, disruption of transportation, disorderly conduct, truancy and simple assault.
Waco ISD, the largest district in the area with about 15,000 students, also was issuing the largest number of tickets, based on numbers from the 2010-11 school year.
Last year, between the last week in August and the first week of March, Waco ISD police officers wrote 461 citations to students for offenses. This school year, officers reduced that number by 45 percent, writing 254 citations in that same time period.
Citations overall are down by 27 percent, including those written to adults on school campuses and written for traffic violations.
Waco ISD Police Chief Kenneth Boatman said now when his nine officers in the field write a citation, they also fill out a data support sheet, which documents the offense and the circumstances surrounding it.
He said they want to make sure they aren’t writing tickets for the equivalent of going 33 mph in a 30 mph zone.
Boatman said his officers also are considering whether there is another route to go rather than ticketing the student, such as one of the district’s new alternative discipline programs.
A grant from the Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office has put a handful of programs in place in the Waco school district this year that are offering an alternative to sending a student through the courts system.
Other students are playing a significant role in some of the programs.
On every middle and high school campus, students have been trained to act as peer mediators.
Students who are sent to peer mediation may sit down with a peer and talk about the conflict that led them to mediation and also come up with a resolution.
Waco ISD police also went through the mediation training, Hamilton said, because it is important the officers are familiar with each of the alternative programs.
There is a teen court at University High School that consists of a court of high school students who have been trained to listen to student cases and deal out appropriate sanctions.
For example, a student who is in a fight could be sent to alternative school or that student could be sent to teen court instead, where the court might decide the offender should issue an apology, go to Saturday school or make amends in other ways.
A third program, the student diversion course, not only gives school officers an alternative to writing a citation, but also students who already have made it to the court system can be sent back to the program by a justice of the peace.
The student diversion course requires that a student and his or her parent go to school on Saturday where the student may take classes on anger management, consequences and other things while parents, separately, take parenting classes.
The grant that funded these programs is for two years, so officials will look compare citation numbers at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
“We made a goal for this program to decrease ticketing by 25 percent,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said if the Governor’s Office gets the results it’s looking for, she is sure the office would like to roll out the programs elsewhere
Boatman said the changes he is making in his department are large-scale and fewer citations is one of the outcomes.
The department now is crafting a juvenile offense guideline policy that basically will act as a how-to manual for handling juvenile offenders from misdemeanors to felonies.
Boatman said his officers know what is coming through the new policy and already are adopting it in the field.
The department hopes to reduce offenses even more next year through a violence-prevention curriculum.
Officers will work with some students on campuses, focusing on things like coping skills.