Major kudos today for HCDA Juvenile Division Chief Bill Moore for saying what plenty of Defense Attorneys and Prosecutors have been thinking and saying for a long time.
In a report on KHOU, Moore addressed the felony criminalization of "graffiti" by referring to it as a "cop out by schools and police" who seem more than willing to saddle a school aged kid with a felony conviction for doodling on their desk or a bathroom wall.
While Bill is just addressing the graffiti element of crimes that occur in school, I think he has identified the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the handling of kids and the things that they do in schools today. I don't think that it is any stretch of the imagination to say that things that you and I would have gotten swats on the rear end for when we are in school are now things that get kids involved in the Juvenile Justice System.
And the bottom line is that it has become beyond absurd.
I graduated from high school in 1991. Back in those days, if a police car pulled up in front of the school, you could guarantee that every student in the class was struggling to get to the window to see what on earth was going on that could possibly bring a police officer to the campus. Today, there are police stations at most major high schools in this county. There is now the phenomena known as the Independent School District Police Departments, and they are very aggressive in making sure that students at a school walk the line.
But the question becomes "do they go too far"?
I don't dispute that today's 5th through 12th grader is a lot different from those I went to school with. Violent and scary students are a sad, but undeniable truth on every campus now days. The sad fact is that a police presence on campuses is an unfortunate necessity. Schools are dangerous today, and having police officers there is prudent.
But what happens on a slow day? When the Charles Manson of the 10th grade Algebra class isn't acting up, do ISD cops start looking to boost some felony stats by filing criminal charges on behavior that used to just result in swats in the principals office?
The calls at intake regarding the graffiti charges are one of many charges that ISD police often call in about. Fights in school are now called in as Assault charges. If a kid used a ballpoint pen or scissors in the fight, look for felony Aggravated Assault charges. In a story that is now legendary within the D.A.'s Office, one ISD cop called in seeking charges on a student who had turned off the lights during a class. What charge did he want, you ask? That would be Inciting a Riot.
Give me a break. (NOTE: Those charges were declined by the ADA on Duty, but they shouldn't have ever been sought in the first place.)
My personal thought on the state of Juvenile Law and the ISD police is that so many parents were outraged over the thought of principals giving swats to their children that the schools reacted by giving them Due Process through the court system. It was a nice idea, but it has clearly blown up in their faces.
I think during my entire public school career, I got called to the Principal's office once or twice. And it mortified me. I got in trouble at school. I got in trouble at home. I learned my lesson, and I never saw the inside of a courtroom. If I screwed up, the consequences were immediate and they were handled by the school.
It was effective.
I think it is time to expand on what Bill Moore went on record with today and start returning more disciplinary power to the schools and keeping more kids out of the System. Graffiti is just a starting point. But like I said earlier, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
I'm hoping that the Lykos Administration will follow Bill's lead and start using some serious discretion when it comes to what charges to file on kids acting up in school. There's a big difference between a criminal and kid being just . . . well, a kid.