Swats Versus Felonies

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.


Anonymous said…
Mur, I'm so glad you wrote this post. I feel absolutely sick about the criminal records we're slapping our lttle ones with. As a former teacher who believes schools should handle their own discipline, I agree with you 100 percent!!!!!
Anonymous said…
Amen. All of this has just plain gotten out of hand. Kids really are a pain in the ass these days, but our system is pacifying and saddling the youth all at the same time. Makes you wonder why fistfights aren't an option, but getting a gun and shooting someone is... Bunch of confused sissies.
Anonymous said…
The schools of your generation are long lost. The liberal mandate for "promoting" self esteem and self expression as an entitlement in exchange for responsibility and consequences has crippled our public school system. Common sense has been replaced with the excesses of political correctness. Our current socio-economic meltdown reflects this cultural failure.
If instead, our public schools promoted the values of basic respect and accountability and brought back ass paddling and school prayer there would be rare need for po po in the school yard.
Anonymous said…
Don't blame the officer for doing what he is trained to do. Blame the parents who surrendered their authority quite willingly. Single parenting. Double-income parents. Infants in child care from point of birth. Who the hell do they think is going to raise the kid?
Anonymous said…
Katy ISD is the worst for this sort of thing: everything that can be criminalized there is. They have the "zero tolerance" mentality.

Can any concept be less American than "zero tolerance?" Could any of us have avoided being branded as felons if everything we did was viewed through a Zero Tolerance filter?

Do cops still EVER give warnings instead of tickets?

Do cops still ever kick a bag of weed into the storm sewer instead of making an arrest?

Do kids ever just get into a playground fight without being violent criminals?

At least it's full employment for lawyers. It is just that the work gets more and more depressing as time goes on.

A friend of mine who used to be an ADA in Chicago quit, because he could no longer prosecute the types of cases assigned to him in good conscience.

If only more Harris County ADA's were similarly conscientious.
Anonymous said…
"We're gonna save the high school students if we have to kill them all": Austin Lounge Lizards.
Anonymous said…
Murray, you are right on target with this one. Great post!
Anonymous said…
Rage Judicata said…
Hey 6:56, whadda ya say we bring back segregated schools too? Bet you'd like that.

There are plenty of conservative kids from conservative families doing drugs (hell, they have more money for it than many of the 'liberal' kids and they're enabled by their parents), so I'm not sure this is a liberal thing. The problem is that many want the schools to be surrogate parents, and that's not what school is for.

And there isn't a substantially higher level of juvenile crime now than when we were kids, it's just that as adults we see it differently. The real tipping point was Columbine. After that happened, every kid got a charge for fighting. Like after 9/11, when every Muslim was a potential terrorist and every person who didn't want to invade Iraq was soft on terrorism. We overreact to the worst events in our history, and that drives policy until everyone calms down.

My understanding is that Bill Moore recently had a felony referred to him for a girl who wrote on a wall with a sharpie. Hopefully that will be the straw that breaks the camel's back in his short tenure as juvie chief, and make him lighten up from what Hawkins used to do.
I'd feel more encouraged if he hadn't been the only dissenting voice in the push to remove capital punishment from juvenile sentences, however. Hell, even the Williamson County DA was for it.
Anonymous said…
Rage is probably correct that there really isn't more juvenile crime today than in the sixties and seventies. I remember alot of drug and alcohol related crime back then committed by kids; lots of criminal mischief, graffiti, destruction of school property, theft, etc. It's just that they didn't saddle teenagers with criminal prosecutions unless the school system had failed, and the juvenile system had failed.

GW Bush said that when he was young and irresponsible, he did young and irresponsible things. Today, he'd be a young, irresponsible felon, most likely, instead of having presided over the worst destruction of our economy and national morale in many decades.

I take it all back. If juvenile prosecutions will prevent another GW Bush from taking office, I'm all for them.
Anonymous said…

Don't forget about the PARENTS who won't let kids be kids. The example of the school fight...well, some Police agencies are under pressure to call the DA after a fight because the parent of the child who got their ass beat is irate and the parent wants to prosecute.

The entire juvenile law system needs to be revamped and schools need to learn how to police themselves.
Anonymous said…
Zero tolerance for everything is a crappy way to go about things. But, in a society, where the legal profession has pervaded everything, it is little wonder we have zero tolerance. School systems & public entities are afraid that any failure to take action will result in a lawsuit. Additionally, any action that results in different punishments for different kids or offenders, results in a lawsuit. The best way out of these types of situations is a crazy zero tolerance policy that is defendable in court. How sad that we have come to this in our society.
Anonymous said…
Rage Judicata,
You give crackheads a bad name.
Your attention to detail is lost along with your reasoning skills.
I am nominating you for poster girl of: "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing".
If you haven't checked out and are still "loitering" in the halls of HCDA while masquerading as a civil guru....it's time to hit the road Jack and check in with a guidance counselor.
Anonymous said…
I completely agree, I am investigating a case right now involving a 11 and 12 year old. I am not an ISD cop but WHY am I (police) involved in this case? Some things need to go back to how they were. Send them to the principle's office,get a swat and after school detention.
Joel Rosenberg said…
I think it's more of a symptom, rather than the disease itself. For various reasons -- including, but not limited to, the lack of competence of public school administration -- fobbing off problems on folks with badges, guns, and a protective blue wall makes lots of sense to other than the best school administrators. That way, it's not their problem. Administratively.
Anonymous said…
Hey Rage,
Civilians who are obsessed with big pistols often suffer from:
A. Napoleon complex
B. Penis envy
C. Bed wetting
D. Impotence
E. All of the above

Answer: E, all of the above
Anonymous said…
Hey Rage,
Civilians who are obsessed with big pistols often suffer from:

Hey, 7:29 am, you may have missed my post where I mentioned that I'm in my second career, my first being a tanker in the 3rd armored.

You are more civilian that I ever will be, even if I never touch another gun.

Mine was 120 mm, by the way.


Anonymous said…
I live next to Lanier Middle School. A couple times over the last 8 years I've had to interact with the HISD police officers a handful of times. No wonder they weren't regular cops, they were lazy, smartass, and ineffective. In a word, moronic. I guess they just reflect the organisation they work for.
Anonymous said…
Hey Rage,
I haven't been active duty for quite awhile but am secure enough not to feel compelled to post rank and service record.
In my experience, those that served in the armed forces with distinction are generally humble while those that didn't serve as gallantly often pontificate with bravado.
Suffice it to say that we're both civilians now and it's simply time for you to grow up.
Maybe you just need to get laid....
Anonymous said…
Did I give you my rank and service record?

Although something tells me if you had any rank of significance you wouldn't be a beat cop shaking down 12 year old "prostitutes."
Rorschach said…
Murray you are right that it goes way beyond graffiti. As other posters have noted, it is the "Zero Tolerance" concept that is at fault as well as the liberal mindset that students should NEVER EVER be corporally disciplined.

Look, I graduated from Aldine HS in 1984. It was a rough school. We had race riots between the Vatos from Greenridge North and the Home Boys from Acres Homes, stabbings, shootings, and all kinds of other things going on. Our school's AP's however had the right and responsibility to mete out punishment as the severity of the offense merited. These days, ISD policy has been distorted to the point where the ISD cops and the AP's have a cookbook of actions they must take and no deviation from the guidelines is possible.

My daughter goes to Klein Collins HS, and the rules there are if you are involved in a physical altercation, even if you never throw a punch and your entire participation in the affair involves someone's fist impacting your nose followed by your head impacting the floor, you are going to have assault charges filed on you. It does not matter if you are defending yourself or not. This has the perverse effect of teaching kids not to try to defend themselves from those who would do them harm. My daughter has been instructed (by me) that she is to NEVER start a fight, but if she finds herself in one, that she should do her best to beat the snot out of whoever started it. Because the simple fact is that she will be punished whether she stands there and takes it or if she fights back, so she might as well try to beat the snot out of the offender. If she does not attempt to defend herself, she'll be in trouble with me.

No thinking on the part of school officials is allowed to interfere with the filing of felony charges.
Anonymous said…
Geeze, someone hit a nerve. Chill the fuck out.
There is life after a stint in Armored Division even if you can't drive an M 1 to work.
Granted, VMI is not Annapolis or West Point, but it beats ROTC at U of H.
Get a grip and stop projecting your insecurities on others.
Anonymous said…
Good post. Too bad the HCDA's office didn't take a stand on this under Johnny or Chuck.

I say bring back swats and make kids ascared to misbehave. If they do, better they learn now that justice (swats) is swift and sure.

And Rage, you keep proving that you are an idiot.
Anonymous said…
I truly agree with what you said. The world has changed but the bible tells of everything that is happening now. When they took prayer out of the what did the world think was going to happen. You can't dismiss God and thing everything is going to be alright. If prayer is needed anywhere it is in the schools, the teachers have a hard job. And parents need to be given back the control. But they have to be parents not their kids friends and buddies. I knew when I left home for school there were consequences for my actions both at school and at home. And the police wasn't called in for the but whipping I got and I better not even think about calling them because my parents disciplined me. But the world is messed up. Those in high places and offices gave the kids all the authority and they have taken it too far. They need to add more police to the force for what More abuse of people. They have all the rights not the people. America need to get back to business. We're suppose to be the lone star state not the lone felony state. If you were to take a survey there are more felons in the world than regular hard working people. Things are going to get worser before they get better. What are they gonna do put everybody in jail, just so the police can have jobs. Racial problems are a thing of the past its the police against every body else do we just stay in our homes due to fear of the police. COME ON AMERICA LETS GET BACK TO THE BASICS
Anonymous said…
Anon 9:05, I am always curious when I come across one of you put-prayer-back-in-school people as to exactly whose prayer you would put in school. Would you have the students praying to Allah, Buddha, the Virgin Mary or Jesus? I have a close friend who is half Japanese and is Shinto. Does putting prayer back in school mean that she can put a duplicate of her home shrine to her ancestors in the classroom? Another friend is Apache and follows her native god called Uhsen. When she prayers to him in school, or to the Ga'an (Mountain Spirits), does she get to do the whole dance thing that goes with their prayer rituals? Now, since you prayer-in-school folks generally mean Christian prayer, since we are supposedly a "Christian nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles," which is always said somewhere in the conversation, does this mean that non-Christian taxpayers are expected to pay taxes to support your Christian prayers? Or are they allowed to opt out and not pay taxes for state sanctioned or mandated religious practices? If some child refuses to engage in the school prayer, will zero tolerance policies kick in and the kid find himself in juvenile court? After all, refusing to obey a teacher can get a kid in trouble. What if the principal of the school is Muslim and decides to issue little prayer rugs and have the kids pray to Allah 5 times a day? Do you think that the Baptist parents might possibly have problem with that? Does anything in here ring a bell and make you think of, oh, I don't know, the US Constitution? Do you think that some kid who hasn't had an adequate breakfast and lives in a homeless shelter or whose mother was out smoking crack all night or is running the streets because of inadequate parenting due to poverty, ignorance, or parents just don't care, is going to be put on the straight and narrow because someone prays over an intercom for a few minutes in the morning? Do you see any problems at all with prayer in school? Or is it just hopeless?
Anonymous said…
Anon 12:47,
It's hopeless. :~)
Anonymous said…
Murph, yes I remember one of the times you went to the Principal's office. Mrs. Hartman sent you and I to see Jerry Ellis becasue we were disrespecting her authority in debate class. I remember that Jerry didn't come down too hard on us, but we also never challenged Mrs. Hartman to that level again because we didn't want to visit Jerry a second time so it worked. I hadn't read your bog in awhile, but it was an interesting read today and I completely agree with this post. Take care.
Anonymous said…
Don't think that this problem is isolated to big-city schools. The amount of 3A and 2A schools with either "school resource officers" from a constable's office--or even an ISD police department--are growing by leaps and bounds.

Even in conservative East Texas, some smaller schools have simply handed over discipline to cops. I could point you to a school district where being too loud at lunch or outside the junior high campus can get you a Class C disorderly conduct ticket. They aren't so focused on felonies as they are writing as many Class C Misdemeanor citations for any offense they can think of on school property, but it is still bad news--and complete lunacy.

Turning loose police interrogation techniques--especially poorly conducted--on a junior high or high school can also cause a lot of havoc.

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