Friday, October 4, 1996
Skip school, go to work - with a parent

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dave Bailey believes in taking your kids to work.

And leaving them there.

As the commander of the Cincinnati Police Division's gang unit, the sergeant goes on daytime patrols and sees thousands of kids on the street when they should be in school.

After the hooky players are spotted, he knows the drill. ''We round up the kids and take them back to their schools. Then they get expelled or suspended.''

In Sgt. Bailey's view, ''a suspension can become a 10-day pass to sell drugs, commit crimes and join gangs.''

Then, what began as a school problem becomes a police problem. Sgt. Bailey plans to make it a parent problem.

By the powers vested in the gang unit, he can round up truant students. ''Kids skipping school can get into trouble,'' he says. ''When they cause trouble in groups, it's gang activity. Then, we get involved.''

That's where his plan comes in. He intends to haul these lapsed students to a parent's place of business.

The kid who thought skipping school was so cool may end up cooling his heels at a store, office, restaurant, loading dock or shop.

(Imagine the boss' reaction to your delinquent teen glowering at co-workers while he's parked next to you all day.)

If that causes problems for Mom or Dad, tough.

''We want the parents to be inconvenienced,'' Sgt. Bailey says. ''It might make them realize who's responsible for making sure their child goes to school and stays in there.''

He knows it can't make them care. That's a matter between a parent's heart and soul.

But, ''we sure can hold them accountable for their child.''

Numbers don't lie

The numbers back up Sgt. Bailey's sense of urgency for a firm ''take the kids to work'' plan.

On any given day during the 1995-96 school year, 14.3 percent of Cincinnati Public Schools' student body was absent. From a total enrollment of nearly 50,000, that's 7,000 students. Many were sick. Some were skipping.

During the same 1995-96 school year, police conducted a series of highly publicized truancy roundups. They corraled 1,350 students skipping Cincinnati Public Schools classes.

This school year, police have conducted one truancy sweep, picking up 128 students. Some were held at a detention center until their parents arrived. A few went to where their parents work.

Sgt. Bailey wants to take all truants to work. He sees skipping school as a link to gang membership. If you're in class, you have no time for gangs. If you're out, you have all the time in the world.

The gang unit estimates there are 34 distinct youth gangs on Cincinnati streets. The gangs' combined membership has been conservatively placed at 600.

These figures add up to a tremendous drain on the strained resources of the legal and educational systems.

''People can't expect the police and the courts and the schools to take care of these kids,'' Sgt. Bailey says. ''The family and the parents have to do their part. They need to show these kids that they belong somewhere and something is expected of them.

''When the parents don't care, the kids are more likely to join a gang. It's some place they can go where they feel they belong and feel wanted.''

Still get a choice

Sgt. Bailey's plan has no specific start-up date. But he says it will happen.

''We're not going to announce it or do a formal series of sweeps like the truants' roundups. We want to spring this on 'em without any advance warning.''

He did say students would have a say in the plan. If both parents work, the hooky player gets to choose: Dad's work place? Or Mom's?

He knows which one he would take.

''When I was in school, my dad was the fire chief of Evendale,'' he says.

''If an officer brought me to the fire house, my dad would have thanked the policeman. Then, he would have sat me down and brought me back in line.''

Sgt. Bailey's mom worked as a secretary in an accounting firm.

And, if the police had picked him up for skipping and dropped him off at her desk?

''I would have been killed.''

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.