In NY town, par­ents may do time if their child does crime

Manteca Bulletin - - Nation -

NORTH TON­AWANDA, N.Y. (AP) — First came the sucker-punch to their 13-year-old son from an older boy out­side a dol­lar store.

Then came the gut-punch from po­lice, who told the par­ents they were all but pow­er­less to pun­ish the 15-year-old at­tacker.

“We were es­sen­tially told that, be­ing a mi­nor, there was noth­ing that could be done,” said Wil­liam Crago, whose son was left with a black eye. “We ac­tu­ally heard that sev­eral times: ‘There’s noth­ing we can do.’” Not any­more. This city just north of Buf­falo is get­ting at­ten­tion for a new law that lets au­thor­i­ties send par­ents of bul­lies to jail for up to 15 days and fine them up to $250.

The City Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously Oct. 3 to amend an ex­ist­ing law to add bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ment and un­der­age drink­ing to the ex­ist­ing cur­few vi­o­la­tions par­ents al­ready could be held ac­count­able for. Law­mak­ers also re­moved a pro­vi­sion that pre­vented any­thing more than a warn­ing for a first of­fense, mean­ing par­ents can face a fine or jail right away.

A com­mu­nity coali­tion be­gun by Crago and his wife, Vic­to­ria, af­ter the May 8 at­tack on their son pushed for the change, which was sup­ported by po­lice and schools in the 31,000-per­son city.

Even in cases where kids are con­victed in Fam­ily Court, Crago said, there are no real con­se­quences. He said the boy who punched his son was given pro­ba­tion, and only af­ter the Cra­gos pushed for an as­sault con­vic­tion.

“It will make a big dif­fer­ence with the hardcore prob­lem groups,” said City At­tor­ney Luke Brown, not­ing that po­lice have been frus­trated by a group of 10 to 12 teenagers who “know how to walk up to a fine line and not cross it” and par­ents who’ve not done enough to change the be­hav­ior.

Typ­i­cally, po­lice drive mis­be­hav­ing kids home or have their par­ents pick them up, some­times writ­ing the par­ents vi­o­la­tions if the child has vi­o­lated cur­few, Capt. Thomas Krantz said. The law change, he said, is not aimed at par­ents who co­op­er­ate with the po­lice and schools in try­ing to fix the prob­lem.

“It’s for the par­ents ... who don’t have the where­withal to do what they need to do to get their kids in line,” Krantz said, “The ones who say, ‘It’s not my prob­lem.’”

North Ton­awanda’s law was mod­eled af­ter one adopted a cou­ple of years ago by a hand­ful of towns in Wis­con­sin.

Plover, Wis­con­sin, Po­lice Chief Dan Ault ac­knowl­edged his of­fi­cers have is­sued just three or four warn­ings, and no fines, since the law was adopted in 2015, but the mere threat of pun­ish­ment has been enough to get par­ents’ at­ten­tion.

“We’ve cer­tainly de­terred the be­hav­ior,” Ault said this week. “They’re be­ing a lit­tle bit more aware. Why? Be­cause, ‘Holy cow, I’d bet­ter pay at­ten­tion be­cause I don’t want to go to jail for 15 days. I don’t want to pay a $250 fine.’”

Crago and Ault said they have fielded some crit­i­cism that the statute amounts to “govern­ment in­tru­sion” or will add to the hard­ship of al­ready trou­bled homes.

“We are not telling you how to raise your chil­dren,” Ault added. “This is merely ask­ing you to please raise your chil­dren. Please be part of your chil­dren’s life.”

Amanda Nick­er­son, di­rec­tor of the Al­berti Cen­ter for Bul­ly­ing Abuse Preven­tion at the Univer­sity at Buf­falo, said she would wel­come more re­search into whether parental re­spon­si­bil­ity laws are ac­tu­ally ef­fec­tive at re­duc­ing ju­ve­nile crime.

“It’s in­tu­itively ap­peal­ing to say we take bul­ly­ing re­ally se­ri­ously and par­ents need to be held ac­count­able,” Nick­er­son said. “But if we’re truly look­ing to have youth be­have in more proso­cial, pos­i­tive ways, I have a hard time think­ing that the threat of pun­ish­ing a par­ent or ac­tu­ally pun­ish­ing a par­ent” would help.

North Ton­awanda res­i­dent Ash­ley Miller said she ap­proved of the law “be­cause there’s just so much non­sense and peo­ple get­ting hurt.”

“A lot of peo­ple will prob­a­bly say they can’t con­trol their kids,” said Miller, who is ex­pect­ing her first child in Jan­uary, “but that’s part of be­ing a par­ent.”

John Zaleski, a 93-year-old res­i­dent and a for­mer Marine, said par­ents should be re­spon­si­ble for steer­ing their kids in the right di­rec­tion — adding he wouldn’t have needed the threat of jail to re­spond if any of his 11 chil­dren got out of line.

“They’d be sorry I found out about it,” he said.

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