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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

An unenforceable solution?

THE frustration of local law enforcement with runaway juvenile crime in the area is understandable. But a proposal to penalize parents for the crimes of their kids is a simplistic, unenforceable, and probably unconstitutional solution to the problem.

Proponents of an ordinance before a Toledo City Council committee must reconcile themselves to the fact that some criminally active youths are incorrigible and some parents are unable or unwilling to effectively intervene.

Still, the proposed law aims to throw the book at parents who "knowingly" allow their kids to either engage in criminal activity or associate with known criminals.

The ordinance would have parents apprised of their children's criminal behavior with a "gang youth crime alert notification" letter. Guardians who permit the conduct to continue after being notified would be penalized.

At first glance the notion appears perfectly sound. Parents should have a stake in the actions of their own kids.

But on closer examination the measure seems more a desperate gesture to stem juvenile crime by legislating good parenting.

All the wishful thinking in the world won't make it so. Threatening parents with a fourth-degree misdemeanor and possible jail time for not exercising appropriate control over their children just overlooks too many variables.

Some parents, says the Toledo NAACP, simply cannot control their children - and not for lack of trying, counseling, or discipline.

Then there are parents who never separated themselves from the criminal culture that now ensnares their kids. They never learned how to parent or assume any responsibility for their growing, impressionable youngsters.

Will a notification letter warning of gang crime miraculously change the tumultuous home life for those kids? Hardly.

Meaningful intervention for at-risk kids needs to begin long before a gang becomes a second family to them.

Police and politicians are only fooling themselves if they believe punishing parents after the fact will magically reverse a trend or rescue a juvenile. If parents are ultimately jailed for not being responsible, who will assume responsibility for their troubled youngsters?

Toledo Police Chief Jack Smith says "We've got so many kids involved in criminal activity we need to put more pressure on the ones who are responsible [for the children.]"

He's right.

It's the solution that's wrong.

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