Since last spring, I’ve submitted several requests with City of DeKalb for information about school resource police officers’ ticketing of children in local schools, a practice in more than 160 school districts statewide, including District 428. Here, I want to summarize data I’ve obtained that readers might find useful in evaluating the administrative hearing program.
The first clue I had that school resource police officers were ticketing schoolchildren locally was when the Daily Chronicle reported, back in May, a comment made by a city official that SROs had ticketed kids for more than 30 fights at school during the school year. So I started at an assumption of 31 documented offenses for fighting, and asked for citation information and related financial reports covering the time period of August 1, 2021, through May 24, 2022.
There’s a limitation to FOIA in investigating this. City of DeKalb will not release individual files for children under 18, even with names redacted. Getting an idea of the number of children involved in ordinance violation complaints is a process of elimination, using citation numbers from registers of offenses to ask for case files, and then subtracting the number of adult files obtained from the total requested.
The registers, called Citation Disposition Listings, provide the offense cited, the amounts of fines and fees, and case status for a point in time for everyone. But they don’t indicate which citations the school resource officers (SROs) issued to children on District 428 premises versus those issued off school property, or whether children ticketed away from school were ticketed more often in Annie Glidden North neighborhoods than other locations, as is true of the adults. Only the original citations and documentation of the city’s administrative hearing process could give us that, and we’ll never get them.
The result is I have a bit more data on the 18-and-overs, and in analyzing it have developed concerns about due process more generally. But today is once again about the kids as much as possible.
Here come the disclaimers. One, having to use a process of elimination to identify the kids means a heightened chance of error. Two, the citation disposition report tells only what happened on a day in May 2022 — we don’t know what happened after. Please use these numbers as ballpark estimates.
With the cautionary points in mind, there are 69 children during the targeted time period — basically the 2021-2022 school year — who received citations for fighting (56), battery (12), and disorderly conduct (1). Here were their case statuses as of May 25:
- 14 had cases closed with no fines owed.
- 2 had cases closed with fines paid in full.
- 24 had fines that went to collections.
- 29 had cases still open.
Of the two dozen fines that went to collections, three had amounts owed of $810, one owed $2,295, and the remaining 20 kids owed $1,147.50 each.
A few of the cases still open had motions pending or “return for payment” statuses, which probably signals arrangements to give families extra time to pay fines. Most open cases had the status “continued for compliance.”
“Continued for compliance” may mean some of the children got the chance to work community service instead of a fine. I only discovered the existence of a community service alternative a few days ago, and will write more about it later.
Again: consider that the status of a fair number of cases were still subject to change at the time the report was printed. Even people whose accounts were sent to collections could have continued to negotiate.
Additional Food for Thought
- At least 2 of the 44 “adults” whose files I received were District 428 students who happened to be 18 when ticketed at school.
- The ordinance violations covered here comprise a fraction of the offenses that SROs could issue citations for. Others left to explore include underage tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis infractions.
- District 428 reports on its website that 65% of its students are classified as low income.
City of DeKalb chose not to post the adults’ files on its FOIA site, but if you want them, ask for a copy of the response to Request No. N000230-090622.