Cities Adopt Teenage Curfew Laws To Curb Rising Juvenile Crime

IF you are under 17 and live in Miami, stay home at night or spend the night at the police station, according to a new county law.

In effect since Feb. 17, the law is aimed at helping to improve the city's image. In the last year, several tourists have been attacked, robbed, or killed, some by teenagers. The incidents spurred Dade County leaders to find a way to curb juvenile crime before it dealt a major blow to the tourism industry.

The law requires anyone 17 or younger to be indoors by 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, they must be in by midnight.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the county on behalf of several teenagers, saying the law violates their freedom and right to due process. A county judge may decide on the case on Monday.

Under the law, anyone who breaks the curfew can be detained by police until a parent or guardian arrives. The detained teenager could be fined $500 and lose his or her driver's license. Someone caught violating the curfew three times or more could get harsher punishment, including being taken away from his or her parents.

There are exceptions, however, for those who work or are engaged in other lawful activity during curfew hours.

Miami isn't the only city imposing curfews on teenagers to curb crime. In Tampa, Fla., the City Council passed a curfew bill in December. But Mayor Sandy Freedman thought it a bad idea and vetoed it. On Jan. 13, the City Council overrode her veto.

A Tampa police spokeswoman said police are working out ways to enforce the law. ``We have 90 days to comply with it,'' she said.

Meanwhile, dozens of other cities have tried curfews to curb rising juvenile crime because of ``frustration about law enforcement's inability to deal with crime in this country,'' said Nina Vinik, ACLU legal director in Miami.

The ACLU is waiting for an outcome to the Miami lawsuit before deciding what to do with the curfew in Tampa, Ms. Vinik said.

Dallas is gearing up to enforce its own teenage curfew. The city passed an ordinance in June 1991, but the ACLU went to court to halt enforcement. Last November, an appeals court ruled that the city can impose the curfew.

ENFORCEMENT was delayed partly in deference to the Dallas Cowboys's Super Bowl win over Buffalo last month. Enforcement will begin ``soon,'' said Donald Postell, executive assistant city attorney.

Atlanta has had a teenage curfew for three years. Assistant City Attorney Overtis Brantley said the ACLU didn't challenge it in court.

Here in Miami, a majority of voters support a curfew even though they doubt it'll work. A local TV station poll shows that 77 percent of voters agree with the statement: ``The curfew is fair because we must do something about juvenile crime.'' But 63 percent of voters doubt if police could enforce a curfew.

It received broad support from the leadership of the African-American community. Black leaders have traditionally been suspicious of crime-fighting methods that they fear might unfairly target young black men. But, in this case, the Greater Miami Urban League and African-American Council of Christian Clergy went to court in support of the county's decision to impose the curfew.

The Rev. H.C. Wilkes, executive director of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy, said his group supports the curfew. ``Every night, one of our young black men gets killed on the streets of Miami. Those [who] are not incarcerated are getting killed without knowing what they could become,'' he said.

``We are losing them at such a rapid rate. We are losing them like flies. A child under 17 has no business being on the street at 11 [p.m.] without parental guidance.

``If the police enforce the curfew, I'm certain we can save some of our young black men,'' Mr. Wilkes continued.

On the other hand, it is police who worry the curfew could divert resources away from ``real'' criminals. Dade County police say it costs $1,212 each time a teenager is stopped, detained in jail, and taken to court, and $800,000 will have to be spent for special holding cells.

For Jo-Quinda Senance, 16, of Carol City and the mother of a three-month-old baby, the curfew is already a major inconvenience. A few days after the law went into effect, her baby had a high temperature during curfew hours. She asked a 16-year-old relative to drive her to the hospital.

A police officer stopped the car and arrested the driver, while another officer drove mother and child to the hospital. That, she said, was unfair because no one else was available to give her a ride.

``I have a baby, I attend school, and I work,'' said Quantasha Patterson, 16, an ACLU lawsuit plaintiff. ``Most of the people I know who will give me a ride are teenagers.''

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