Children as city revenue sources

Published

Schools in Illinois are not allowed to “ticket” children for misbehavior. So they have the police do it, according to a new series of articles by Pro Publica and Chicago Tribune.

A boy named Kameron, who had shoved his friend over a Lipton peach iced tea in the school cafeteria, had been cited for violating East Peoria’s municipal code forbidding “assault, battery, and affray.” He didn’t know what that phrase meant; he was 12 years old.

“He was wrong for what he did, but this is a bit extreme for the first time being in trouble. He isn’t even a teenager yet,” Shannon Poole said as her son signed a plea agreement that came with $250 in fines and fees. They spent three hours at the courthouse as Kameron missed math, social studies and science.

The nearly 30 students summoned to the Tazewell County Courthouse that January morning were not facing criminal charges; they’d received tickets for violating a municipal ordinance while at school. Each was presented with a choice: agree to pay a fine or challenge the ticket at a later hearing. Failing to pay, they were told, could bring adult consequences, from losing their driving privileges to harming their future credit scores.

The first article also points out that fines are often applied even when the school has taken disciplinary action; additionally, kids aren’t allowed legal representation, and records of the municipal proceedings can’t be expunged. In other words, the system clearly is designed for adults, not children.

DeKalb right now is considering expanding the number of its school resource officers (SROs), from three to five or six, based on a request from the District 428 school board. According to a Chronicle article published today, DeKalb SROs have issued more than 30 citations since the beginning of the school year just for fighting. Here’s the city ordinance about fighting:

52.01 FIGHTING.
No person shall physically fight with another person without legal justification. Any person violating this Section shall be punished by a fine of not less than Three-Hundred Dollars ($300.00) nor more than Seven-Hundred Fifty Dollars ($750.00) for each offense.

City of DeKalb Municipal Code, Chapter 52

Vague language, with a hefty fine even for a first offense. Lovely.

I’ve filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out more about DeKalb’s ticketing of students for ordinance violations, starting with how lucrative a side gig it is for DeKalb to help exploit this state loophole. Stay tuned.

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Pro Publica: Black students in Illinois are far more likely to be ticketed by police for school behavior than white students