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TRUANTS TO FIND LONG ARM OF LAW IS GETTING LONGER

Salt Lake City School District students who cut class face a beefed up effort against truancy this fall.

The Salt Lake City Police Department has devoted two officers to truancy patrol full time, and Chief Ruben Ortega has identified truancy as a department priority, said Kay Christensen, Mayor Dee-dee Corradini's chief of staff."They feel very strongly it will make a difference in daytime burglaries. That's what's happened in other jurisdictions that have done this extensively," Christensen said Tuesday in a joint meeting with the Salt Lake City Board of Education and the Salt Lake City Council.

Nancy Hardy-Valdez, the school district's supervisor of pupil services, said the school district cracked down on truancy in 1994 in cooperation with the police department and the Division of Youth Services.

"One of the reasons we've had such good cooperation from the police department is, they're (truant students) apt to be committing crimes during the day. Shoplifting is a big one because the students are prone to be hanging out in the malls," Hardy-Valdez said.

Youth crime is but one concern.

"Truant students are very likely to be our first dropouts. Truants get behind, school has no meaning to them and they're not successful at it so they drop out," Hardy-Valdez said.

In the 1994-95 school year, officers picked up 947 truant students, an average of six a day. "Very few days we had many more than 10 students," she said.

The offenders were fairly evenly split between male and females students. Two thirds were Anglo and about a third were minority students, which mirrors the demographics of the school district.

About one-third of the students picked up by the Salt Lake Police Department were enrolled in neigh-bor-ing districts, "but we pick them up anyway," Hardy-Valdez said. Predictably, more students cut class in the spring than fall and winter, but Hardy-Valdez at-tri-butes that phenomenon to bolstered enforcement during the spring.

Skipping class is not confined to high school students. "We've picked up kids as young as second grade, not a lot, but 5 percent of our truant students were elementary kids," Hardy-Valdez said.

Even though officers picked up 947 students in the 1994-95 school year - roughly the population of a middle school - repeat offenders were few. "Our recidivism rate is 8.6 percent. We felt really good about keeping low," Hardy Valdez said.