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The Salt Lake City Council wants to take a legal stick to parents who can't control their wayward children.

Council chairman Stuart Reid proposed a program Thursday that would sanction parents of repeat juvenile offenders. Parents would either agree to enter counseling or face penalties ranging from fines to community service and possibly jail."We require pet owners to be more responsible for their pets than we do parents for their children," Reid said. "The least we can do as government is send a signal to parents that they have a responsibility for their child, that we're going to hold them responsible and help them become responsible."

As proposed by Reid, parents would receive a warning letter if a child is arrested twice within 24 months.

The third time a youth is arrested, parents would have two options: agree to counseling or face charges for failure to supervise a minor, a class B misdemeanor. The emphasis is on counseling and reforming a child before he or she becomes an incorrigible criminal.

"Essentially, this is a parental responsibility ordinance," Reid said. "The intent is to help parents with repeat offender youth to become more responsible for their child."

On a fourth offense, parents would be required to take counseling or complete 100 hours of community service.

Operating the program would cost the city about $40,000 initially. That money would be used to add staff at Salt Lake County's Life Enhancement Alternative Program, a treatment program for minors.

"If the ordinance is successful, it will pay for itself many times over," Reid said.

The proposal has the support of Police Chief Ruben Ortega and Mayor Deedee Corradini, Reid said.

But two council members are skeptical. Tom Godfrey and Roselyn Kirk question the effectiveness of the program and whether it's appropriate for government to tell parents how to rear their children.

"Why do we feel that we need to lead the way on this?" Godfrey said. "You're not going to change that behavior that's developed over 14 years."

But Reid, who spent the past 11/2 years working on the idea, said government controls behavior all the time.

"If a pet is unleashed or bites somebody, we hold the owner responsible. We fine them," Reid said. "I believe government has the right and responsibility to hold parents responsible because if they're not, then the community becomes responsible."

Salt Lake City police arrested 7,700 youths in 1994 for various offenses. Only 3 percent of the juveniles picked up by police are repeat offenders, according to Reid.

Last year in Salt Lake City, police dealt with 292 youths who committed more than one crime. Fifty-eight youths were arrested three times.

Reid estimates about 100 cases a year would be targeted by the program. He hopes parents will opt for counseling, if they are not already receiving it. The harsher penalties would only kick in if a parent refused to cooperate, he said.

"It's a new approach, but these times call for new approaches," Reid said.