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Police sweep catches truants


Concerned about Northern High School students who commit crimes while playing hooky, city police stepped up patrols in the area yesterday and arrested 33 truant Northern students.

About 30 officers participated in operation "Be My Valentine." After stopping the students for violating the city's 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. curfew for children 16 and younger - and handcuffing at least some - officers returned them to Northern, where school officials suspended the youths and sent them home.

The school's principal, Betty Donaldson, and School Police Chief Jansen M. Robinson did not return calls seeking comment.

The police initiative was sparked by the arrest last week of five students in connection with five burglaries.

Police have noticed an increase in burglaries near the school in recent weeks - 31 in the past 28 days - and most occurred between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., said Lt. Frederick V. Roussey.

"They happened right when they were supposed to be in school," Roussey said.

Yesterday, police gathered the students they caught behind the school's football field.

The students did not appear to be nervous and joked while waiting in line to be taken back to school on a bus. But Roussey said many did not want their parents to find out they had been caught skipping class.

The parents can be fined $75 for their child's violation of the curfew, Roussey said. "We're going to keep doing this until the kids realize we're not going to tolerate it," Roussey said.

Besides the Northern students, police caught one student each from Hamilton Elementary-Middle School, Forest Park High School, Harbor City High School, Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, and Parkville High School in Baltimore County. Police stopped and released an 18-year-old Northern student because he is older than age 16 and the curfew law does not apply to him.

Police arrested one youth for having a knife and confiscated a pellet gun that looked like a 9 mm pistol from the 18-year-old Northern student, Roussey said.

Police also caught two students - from Highlandtown Middle School and Fairmount/Harford High School - in a stolen car. They were charged as juveniles with auto theft.

Most students tried to offer excuses about why they were caught violating the city's curfew law.

Police officers Perry Mason and Ed Carnes were driving east on Northern Parkway when they spotted two teen-age boys walking along the street. They stopped them - one age 15 and the other 16 - and brought them to the command post behind the football stadium.

One of the boys told police he was going home to baby-sit a sister whose name he could not remember and the other said he got to school too late and was not allowed in the building.

"This was long overdue," said Mason. "This needed to be done."

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