NORFOLK, Va. -- Nearly two years ago, Dominique Marsh was stopped and handcuffed by an officer on suspicion of truancy.
But the Booker T. Washington senior wasn't playing hooky - he was on his way to school, where his classes began mid-morning.
City leaders publicly criticized police tactics and the department's chief apologized to Marsh and promised "corrective follow-up actions."
Changes have finally come. The Police Department's truancy policy makes one significant adjustment: Officers must confirm that a young person is actually truant by calling the teen's school before taking the individual into custody. The policy mirrors policies that other South Hampton Roads police follow when handling suspected truants.
Marsh, who is studying sports management and English on a scholarship at St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, said last week that he is glad the 2010 incident illustrated the need for a new policy.
"I believe that's a better approach versus just taking it into their own hands," said Marsh, 19. "Incidents like that should not occur; it's like they're trying to demoralize your character."
Under the former policy, officers could act on their assumption that if a school-age individual wasn't in school during school hours, the person was probably truant, police spokesman Christopher Amos said.
"The changes we made in terms of confirming a student's status," he said. "Had they been in place then, that particular incident never would have happened."
Adoption of the new policy was delayed by the retirement of former police Chief Bruce P. Marquis, and the need for approval by the city attorney as well as the new chief, Michael Goldsmith, who was hired in June.
In the 2010 case, Marsh was walking to school about 9 a.m. and was within site of the campus when an officer stopped him and asked where he was going. Marsh's classes didn't begin until 10:20 a.m., and he was going to school early to fill out college application forms with a teacher.
After Marsh said he was headed for school, the officer told him he needed to drive him there.
Marsh objected and was handcuffed and taken to the school. The 17-year-old began experiencing shortness of breath and had an anxiety attack; he was treated by paramedics at the school.
Amos said officers still have discretion to handcuff individuals they apprehend. But they are not required to handcuff students who are not violent, though they need a superior's permission to waive the restraints.
The handcuffing of Marsh was one aspect of the incident that Councilman Paul Riddick criticized.
"He was handcuffed when he actually could see the school from where he was. That part was over the top," Riddick said recently.
But Riddick said he is pleased that the revised policy requires officers to verify a teen's truancy status first. "Hopefully we have it where it's more comfortable for the student, and certainly in good order in terms of the textbook of the Police Department."
Norfolk's policy is now similar to the practices that police follow in Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.
In Suffolk, a youth can be stopped when an officer "reasonably determines because of the child's age and circumstances that a juvenile is a suspected truant," according to an email from city spokeswoman Diana L. Klink. The officer must confirm via the city's emergency communications center that the youngster has not been suspended or expelled before bringing the youth to school.
Portsmouth prescribes that officers shall detain any minor they find away from school during school hours, and confirm the youth's status with the child's school or parent. Anyone who is truant will be returned to school. In such cases, the child is handcuffed only if there is a risk of resistance or escape, according to police Detective Janice Clark.
Virginia Beach police spokesman Jimmy Barnes said his department has no written guidelines on the issue. Officers' commonly call the school or parents of suspected truants to verify their status before further action, such as returning the youth to school or home, he said. Individuals who are driven to any location by an officer can be handcuffed if considered necessary for safety, Barnes said.
The Chesapeake Police Department did not respond to a query about its truancy policy.