Frustrated by children and elected officials who won’t listen to them, a group of parents is launching an initiative drive for a county law against runaways and truants.
The announcement Thursday by the Kootenai County Youth Task Force came two days after county commissioners approved a curfew ordinance.
The established curfew is from midnight to 5 a.m. seven days a week for minors. Young people caught violating the curfew can be arrested.
The ordinance, a watered-down version of what the task force and county prosecutor’s office have been pushing for months, does not include provisions for dealing with runaways and truants.
Task force board member Gary Stamper said the ordinance displays a lack of understanding of issues regarding runaways and is, “in effect, a slap in our face, and we are very angry about that.”
Stamper has a 16-year-old daughter who is a chronic runaway. This summer, she ran away several times and was detained for three days in an Arizona detention center, he said.
“We’re not asking them to solve our problems,” said Sherry Bullard, the parent of another runaway. “We’re not asking the city or county to raise our children.”
But, she added, “you can’t be with your kids 24 hours a day.”
It is not against the law to run away from home or skip school. The proposed initiative would change that.
The task force also wants a curfew that mirrors Coeur d’Alene’s, which begins at 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
While some teenagers don’t object to a curfew, others think even midnight is too early.
Kirk Leichner, a high school senior, said lots of kids hang out at a friend’s house or 24-hour restaurants until 1 or 2 a.m. and cause no trouble.
“They shouldn’t be able to tell you when to walk in your own town and on your own planet,” said 15-year-old Melinda Culton, who attends the alternative high school.
County Commissioner Dick Compton defended the commissioner’s decision to limit the curfew ordinance.
“To say it’s a slap in the parents’ face is absolutely not true,” he said.
Parents object to language in the new ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor offense for parents to fail to pick up a child detained for violating the curfew, he said.
The county did not include the runaway and truancy enforcement provisions in the ordinance because of the cost and difficulty of enforcement, Compton said.
The juvenile detention center is already full and the sheriff’s department doesn’t have enough deputies to devote to picking up minors who may be runaways, he said.
“Our interest is to keep the cost of government down,” he said.
But proponents of a broader law say the county would be saving money by intervening earlier, before juveniles get involved in serious criminal activities.
Supporters of the broader ordinance include the county’s juvenile probation officers, Youth for Christ, Court Appointed Special Advocates, and a parent support group called ToughLove.
“We’re disappointed in the way the commissioners decided to resolve this,” said deputy prosecuting attorney Jim Daugherty. “It’s also a question of intelligent use of resources….A lot of those resources should be directed toward kids who are just starting to get involved in the juvenile system.”
Tom Dickson, a candidate for Kootenai County sheriff, questioned the county’s assertion that picking up runaway youths and truants would create an unmanageable burden for the sheriff’s department and juvenile detention center.
The center already detains runaway youths from out of state. Although the center has been over-crowded since it opened, “they have holding areas” for temporary custody of youths, Dickson said.
Allan Friesen, director of the detention center, said, “My concern, being at the end of the line, it wouldn’t take a very big number to definitely impact our capacity. It wouldn’t take many to push us over the edge, and nobody can give us an accurate number.”
Volunteers will soon begin gathering signatures for the initiative, Stamper said. If they can collect about 6,000 voters’ signatures in 90 days, the county will hold a February election on the proposed ordinance.
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