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Police: School truancy directly tied to burglary rates

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Under "additional information" on the police report, the officer wrote that the arrested burglary suspect "Attends Mount Zion High School."

Clayton County Police arrested five high school students on Monday morning, interrupting what was allegedly a burglary attempt. Responding to reports of a strange white vehicle and four or five young men walking up to 2543 Reeves Creek Road. When police arrived in the Alden Woods subdivision, the teens "took off running from the back of the house," Officer David Starcher said.

Officer Jose Avelar wrote, in his police report, that he "yelled at the suspects to stop," but the five kept running.

Police caught and arrested 18-year-old Mohamed Diaby, of Jonesboro, 18-year-old Paul Anthony Green, of Rex, 17-year-old Thomas Arsenio, of Jonesboro, and two unnamed juveniles. The five were charged with criminal trespassing and were each suspended by their school for 10 days for disrupting school and for skipping class, according Avelar's report.

One of the juveniles, Starcher said, is a talented athlete who may have just ruined his chances at a college scholarship by cutting class and getting involved in alleged illegal activity.

The incident, though, is one of many which highlight the connection between truancy and residential burglaries, police say. According to department spokesman, Capt. Greg Dickens, the "vast majority" of the county's hundreds of monthly residential burglaries are committed during school hours by students between the ages of 13 and 19.

Since last August, the commander of the department's School Resource Officer unit, Lt. Scott Stubbs, has been keeping track of the number of students absent from each middle school and high school every day, upon the request of Chief Jeff Turner. A comparison of attendance records and the burglary reports showed that the areas with the highest "hooky" rates were also the areas with the highest numbers of burglaries and thefts.

"This is standard stuff," Dickens said. "This is why, even when we were growing up, you would always hear people say, 'Stay in school and stay out of trouble.'"

The police department has responded to the statistical connection between absent students and increased burglaries by focusing burglary suppression task forces on areas surrounding schools with high absentee rates. Next week, during spring break, the school resource officers and the Special Operations unit will focus on directed patrols, around those schools, in an attempt to bring down burglary rates.

Police officials are quick to point out there's a limit to what law enforcement can do.

"Truthfully, it's a household issue," Dickens said. "It's not something police can just fix, and it's not the schools' problem. Parents have to keep track of their kids. However, there are situations that keep parents from supervising their kids 24/7, so it's a collective, community problem, too."

On Monday morning, police were called to Reeves Creek Road by a neighbor who spotted the strange white vehicle and the teens. In addition to youth activities, which keep teens constructively busy, burglary rates can be reduced by active neighborhood watch programs, Dickens said.

"There is a significant reduction in crime in communities where there is an active and large watch program," Dickens said.

There are currently 78 neighborhood watch programs in the county, some of which have been recently started and some of which have been recently rekindled.

"Two ways to increase the quality of life in Clayton County," Turner said, "are establishing programs to help prevent youth crime and involving our citizens in crime prevention."

For information on neighborhood watch programs or youth activity programs, citizens can contact the police department's Community Affairs unit at (770) 473-3935.