ARLINGTON -- That Crime Stoppers offers cash rewards for anonymous tips is no secret. That it applies to people who report kids skipping class in the Arlington school district might come as a surprise.
Under a new program, the school district is teaming up with Arlington police and Safe City Crime Stoppers to spread the word that anonymous tips about students who appear to be playing hooky could put $40 in your wallet.
The program, "You Earn, They Learn. Stop Truancy," is a first in Tarrant County, said Rachel Gilbert, Crime Stoppers coordinator for the Fort Worth-based Safe City Commission.
Crime Stoppers "has always been available to take truancy and skipping tips in all the schools in Tarrant County," she said, though most folks probably don't think of it for that.
Arlington, she said, "is the first city to actively promote the use of Crime Stoppers to get tips on truant students."
Under state law, truancy is more than just cutting class. It's defined as missing all or part of three school days within a four-week period or 10 during a six-month period of the same school year.
Since 2006-07, Crime Stoppers has offered $20 for anonymous tips of Arlington students ditching school. But in that time, only one report has been made, Gilbert said.
That offer still stands. But police and school officials hope that the larger truancy reward compels more members of the public to become anonymous tipsters. The $40 reward -- paid when the student is confirmed to be a truant -- might make people think twice and submit a tip.
"We're offering an incentive for the community to help educate our kids," said Sgt. Curtis Petties, a school resource officer.
Because some students are home-schooled, some attend private school and some have legitimate excuses to be absent from class, members of the public won't be able to differentiate between them and students who should be on campus.
Police already check out such youngsters when they notice them out in public and officers don't have higher priority calls to respond to. Such interactions serve as a welfare check and also help police build connections, said Tiara Richard, police spokeswoman.
Truant students aren't simply issued a citation and made to perform community service. The Police Department is working with social services agencies to find out the underlying issues that may be keeping the student out of school and then address them, Petties said.
"It's a holistic approach," he said. "If we just wrote citations, we wouldn't be getting to the root cause."
Arlington police issued about 300 citations for truancy last year. The school district was unable to provide numbers for the 2010-11 school year Tuesday.
According to numbers for 2009-10 that the district provided to the Texas Education Agency, 26 students were found to have missed at least three days, and 41 missed 10 or more.
The Mansfield district will be part of the program, too, though details are still being worked out, spokesman Richie Escovedo said Tuesday. "Information on our process and implementation is coming soon," he said.
Patrick M. Walker, 817-390-7423