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Tigards new truancy law gives police officers more clout

As of Sept. 8, police officers can force students to go back to school if they won't go voluntarily
by: Barbara Sherman, THE LAW’S BEHIND HIM — Tigard police officer Dan Gill, who is Tigard High School’s school resource officer, holds a copy of a new ordinance that allows police to return truant students to school.

TIGARD - Sitting at his desk in Tigard High School's student services office Monday, Tigard police officer Dan Gill looked out on the peaceful front parking lot.

While the school is quiet this week, it will be noisy and chaotic next week when about 2,000 students start back to school in the venerable old building.

With about 40 outside doors around the sprawling facility, Gill, the THS school resource officer, notes that as the single police officer on duty there, it is an impossible task for him to keep track of students who decide to ditch school and head out for greener pastures.

However, in his hand he held a sheaf of papers that will give him more ammunition this year when dealing with truancy issues - it was a copy of a new Tigard ordinance that gives police officers more clout to deal with truant students.

'How it came about was that I was sent by the school to pick up some kids on Durham Road who had left school,' Gill said. 'Four said 'Yes,' and one said 'No, I'm not going back.' I tried to coax him into coming back, but then I realized I had no authority to make him get in the car.

'This was over a year ago, and it has happened since where it's been a problem getting kids back to school.'

Gill started researching ordinances already in place in other jurisdictions.

'We took what we liked from the different ones and then took it to the (Tigard-Tualatin) School Board,' he said.

The School Board approved the new policy, and since then, other cities served by the school district have come on board, with the Tigard City Council approving the ordinance Aug. 8. It goes into effect Sept. 8.

Gill explained that the Tigard ordinance states that if any student between the ages of 7 and 18 is stopped by police on public property or in the public right of way during regular school hours, the student can be returned to his or her school. If the student refuses to provide the necessary information, the officer can take the student into protective custody.

Gill defines protective custody as not being deemed an arrest as far as the child is concerned but giving the police officer 'all the privileges and immunities as if making an arrest.'

'The only kicker is if we pick up a student from Hillsboro, for instance, and he won't tell us where he's from,' Gill said. 'We try to call the parents and otherwise take the student into protective custody and transfer him to the school we think he's from - otherwise, we take him to our office.'

A lot of students roam around Washington Square, and they can be from several different school districts, which makes it more difficult to sort out where they're from, Gill said.

In reality, since most students who are picked up are cooperative, he doesn't expect the new law will come into play more than a few times a year.

'Kids leave Tigard and Tualatin high schools all the time, and most go back voluntarily,' said Gill, who plans to train all Tigard officers on the new law once school starts. 'I could have occasionally used the law in the past, but that was just me. Now with more officers involved, this could be used more. This just helps us get the kids back here where they belong.'

This will be Gill's fourth year at THS - 'I graduate this year,' he joked - and he said he was amazed when he first started how many kids left the school during the day and walked through the surrounding neighborhoods.

'Neighbors called about kids sitting in the lawn chairs and smoking,' he said. 'Kids started a couple fires by throwing cigarettes into bark dust.'

THS is a closed campus, which means that no students can leave during the day except juniors and seniors whose parents have gone through a process allowing lunch release. Only about 50 students actually have gone to the trouble of getting the stickers to put on the back of their ASB cards, according to Gill.

On Sept. 8, Gill and other Tigard officers will have another weapon in their arsenal of powers to persuade wayward students to return to school.

Tigard has four school resource officers, and Tualatin has three, according to Gill.