Curfew Could Curtail Teen Crime

Brownsville isn't exactly a booming metropolis, but it does have its share of small town troubles with burglaries, thefts and vandalism, and the city has a pretty good idea of who's to blame.

But if city officials get their way, the late night ruckus and the crime will soon come to an end in the town. If a second reading is passed, the city will adopt a new ordinance that says if you're under 18, you have to be off the streets by 11 p.m.

The chief says he won't be picking on teenagers, but he will be keeping an eye out for those who loiter and cause trouble at night.

Brownsville's City Council will hold a second reading of the curfew ordinance at their regular meeting, next month, on the first Monday in August at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

If the ordinance passes violations could cost up to $250, or include jail time as decided by a judge.

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Brief History of Curfews

  • Curfews have been around for hundreds of years. They're traditionally created by the upper class members of society to limit the movements of the lower class. The theory behind this is that crime originates from those lower classes, and this preemptive strike will limit the amount of crimes that they can commit. Essentially, it is assuming an entire group of people to be guilty.

  • Although the definition of the word may only go back to the 1300s, the concept of a curfew has been around far longer. For centuries, curfews were to be expected in cities that had been invaded. Of course, curfews for blacks were common throughout the south in the United States during slavery and afterwards, in some places through the 1960s.

  • They became popular for youths in the early 1900s. The curfew bell could be heard throughout America in former part of the century, the sign to teenagers and children that it was time to head home.

  • Curfews decreased in popularity over the years to come. Not many were actually repealed, they simply weren't enforced. But come the late 80s, they started being enforced again. Over the next few years, this trend increased. By 1995 curfews were being enacted at a maddening rate, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had begun to get involved, suing on behalf of affected children.

  • President Bill Clinton, in May of 1996, announced that he was supporting a new teen curfew policy. His policy recommended weekday curfews at 9:00 p.m. for teenagers, with punishments of fines and court summons for parents of offenders. Though this was widely seen as a half-hearted election-year tactic, it gained a great deal of attention from both the press and lawmaking bodies around the country. New curfews were added in greater numbers than ever.

  • Many of the police chiefs and city councilors that got these laws passed a few years back are no longer holding their positions. They simply passed these laws because it was the trend. So it leaves organizations like the ACLU & fed-up parents to fight to have these casually-passed laws repealed. It is, unfortunately, generally far easier to pass a law then to remove one.

  • Some of these curfews have been tested in courts. Some failed the test, others were upheld. One case, Schleifer vs. Charlottesville, appealed their case all the way to the Supreme Court. On March 22nd, 1999, the Supreme Court denied their request. So curfews will remain a much-debated crime-reduction tactic until the issue of constitutionality is settled by the court system.

Curfew Q & A

  • We have curfews? What are they?
    Curfews usually exist only in times of national emergency or military occupation. On June 14, 1940 when the Germans occupied Paris they imposed an 8 p.m. curfew. The United States puts a new twist on this familiar concept by setting curfews during times of peace for all young people under a certain age. Curfew laws are often set by a city or a state and make it illegal for a person underage to be outside during certain times. For example in the state of Michigan it is illegal for a person under 16 to be out in public between the hours of 12 and 6 a.m. Cities within the state often impose curfew laws with stricter requirements than the state.

  • What are penalties for breaking curfew?
    That depends on the law; each one is different. In some cases the police will simply give a warning, others will make the youth return home, in other cases there may be a fine or jail time involved. For example, in St. Louis, MO curfew violators face up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail. In some cases parents face penalties when their children are out past curfew as well. In St. Louis if a young person has been picked up for curfew and taken to the police station the parents must pick him or her up from the station within 45 minutes or face penalties of up to $500 in fines and 90 days in jail.

  • What are daytime curfews?
    In addition to laws that make it a crime to be outside at night, there are also laws that make it a crime to be out during the day, usually during school hours. The city of Los Angeles has a curfew making it illegal for anyone under 18 in school to be in public between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

  • Do curfews cut down on youth crime?
    Curfew laws are intended to stop young people from committing crimes by making them stay inside. If a person intends to commit a crime by stealing a car, vandalizing a home, or deal drugs why would they have any respect for another law that made it illegal to be outside? Aren't laws against auto-theft, property damage, and drug dealing enough?

  • Don't curfew laws help the police fight crime?
    Police are split on this issue. The creation of a substantially broad crime to allow the ability to stop and question all individuals under a certain age is a tool for police, and a way to get around individual rights. Many other officers however feel curfew laws create a drain on police time and resources, forcing them not only to serve and protect, but also to parent.

  • Are curfews racist?
    Not inherently, but usually they turn out to be. Curfew laws give a great amount of discretion to police officers, which for reasons we won't get into here, often leads to racist enforcement of curfew laws. Curfew laws are heavily enforced in black neighborhoods, but not as much in white neighborhoods. Likewise white youth are less likely to be stopped by police than black youth. Because of this, the rate of arrest for blacks in 2000 was 71 percent higher than that for whites.

  • Are curfew laws unconstitutional?
    There have been many court challenges to curfew laws around the nation and so far courts are split on this issue. With no US Supreme Court ruling on the issue, there is no easy answer to offer. In general, lower courts recognize that curfews impose restrictions to the 1st Amendment right of free speech, and have struck down many laws that impose too heavy a burden on the exercise of youth's free speech rights.

Sources: www.curfew.org and www.youthrights.org


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