Teen curfew sweep meant to keep kids from turning to a life of crime

SAN DIEGO - (Team 10 had access to a teen curfew sweep on a recent night. Below is the first-hand account from Senior Investigative Producer JW August on his experience.)

It didn't take long for the undercover unit to see a person of interest. Minutes after Team 10 left the sheriff's department briefing at an elementary school, an unmarked vehicle accelerated quickly away from us.

It was dark, the street had little lighting, it was hard to see what the deputies were chasing.

Neither I nor photojournalist Arie Thanasoulis could figure out what was going on until the unmarked car did a quick U-turn and we saw a youthful skateboarder in its headlights. The deputies questioned the skateboarder. How old was he? Why was he out this late? Did he know the curfew was at 10 p.m.?

Deputies would eventually find out the 15-year-old's father had sent him on an errand down to a local store. The skateboarder was released. We saw him on his board a few minutes later deftly rolling down the street with a bag from the store.  

Our job this night was to follow the unmarked car with its two-man team of deputies John Whiteman and John Wurtzer. They were part of a larger curfew sweep in the Spring Valley area on a recent summer night.

Throughout the evening we noted how Whiteman and Wurtzer bounced back and forth between the teenagers they questioned. Both are veterans of curfew sweeps and are skilled at asking for information without spooking the teens. They were looking for inconsistencies in their statements, asking information about their school, their classmates, trying to feel of each teens own situation.

Click here to view SANDAG report on juvenile arrests

A reoccurring problem was confirming the identity of the young people who were stopped. With no driver licenses, they depended on the school student identification number.

As the deputies explained to us, most kids know their school ID number like adults know social security numbers. It's part of their life on a high school campus.

And with that number, the deputies would call into Lucia Washburn back at the command center in the elementary school. Washburn, director of student support services at Grossmont Union High District, would run the high school ID numbers in a computer for the deputies. And with that information, they got an idea of what kind of student they are talking to.

For example, the sort of grades a student has, his or her absentee record -- anything that will help the deputies get an idea of who they are dealing with.

Through the night, some kids did violate the curfew and were given the full treatment. They were handcuffed, put in the squad car and taken back to the command center.

There they would be debriefed by the officers that had taken them into custody, as well as social service volunteers.

The parents would be called and told their child was in sheriff's department custody, and Detective Miguel Lopez told us parents had mixed reactions.

Some parents were angry, complaining it was a waste of time. Other parents would be shocked, and then later turned thankful. But as Lucia Washburn told us, "They need to know where their kids are, which friends they are with."

It was similar to the "scared straight" programs from years ago when young teens were taken into prisons and jails to learn first hand about the life of crime and where it leads. In this case, the sweeps are proactive attempt to grab the teens before they spiral downward. Detective Lopez said it was "to keep them from becoming victims and possibly becoming suspects."

It's recommend to the parents and curfew breakers they both take a diversion program as well as community service and classes for the teens.

One parent we talked to was surprised about her son, whom she described as a "4.0 student." The mother explained she works nights and expected her son to call a relative with updates on his movements. Apparently he didn't on this night.

Click here for parent info on city of San Diego curfew violations

The student was well mannered and didn't say much until he was released to his mother. Outside of the school, he cursed, threatened and flipped off our photojournalist.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob was out the same night on the sweep. At the elementary that evening she expressed hope these juvenile sweeps would save some kids from a life of crime.

And while we never saw any girls this evening, Jacob very much believes these sweeps can also help keep girls from ending up in prostitution, working for gang members or pimps.

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