Be Home by 11 or Else, Towns Say
Some cities try teen curfews to reduce crime, but critics say they violate constitutional rights
DURING the last four years, some 1,000 American cities and communities have imposed teen curfews in an attempt to reduce crime and gang violence and to force parents to keep track of their children.Skip to next paragraph
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Now Edward Flynn, the police chief of Chelsea, Mass., is considering whether to jump on the curfew bandwagon. The city has a 9 p.m. curfew for teens 16 and under on the books, but it has never been enforced. Chelsea officials are holding community discussions to gauge public support for a new curfew. Some teens in this town of 28,000 near Boston support the idea.
``I'm for it,'' says Paul Dailey, an 11th grader at Chelsea High School. ``Basically it's for community safety, so we'll have less trouble when kids are off the streets.''
As Chelsea ponders what to do, other cities are trying to assess the effects of curfews and the challenges they present for police, families, and communities.
While most evidence is anecdotal, a few cities show promising results; at the same time, curfews are being challenged in many states because they limit freedom of movement. Initial police resistance to curfews appears to be fading in some cities.
San Antonio, Texas, with a curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. for anyone under 17, reports a reduction in teens assaulting each other. During the two years of the curfew, annual assaults dropped from 3,600 to 826.
Police in Little Rock, Ark., say their nighttime curfew, started last June, has been so successful that a daytime curfew was passed a month ago. In an effort to stop daytime crime, police will question teens who are found on the streets during school hours whether they are truants or not.
``The point of both curfews is not to penalize the teen,'' says officer Charles Holladay of the Little Rock police department, ``but to make a parent or guardian responsible for the behavior of their teen.'' When teens are apprehended, the police contact the parents or guardians. In some cities parents must come to the police station for their child and pay fines up to $500.
Violent crimes in Little Rock dropped nine percent last year, and auto theft dropped 16 percent. Both were targets of the curfew. ``All crimes are down,'' officer Holladay says, ``so we think the curfew works.''Even if the curfews achieve their aims, some say the cost is too high. Robyn Blummer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Florida, says, ``A curfew violates the right to free expression, the right to freedom of movement and travel, and the right to due process.''
In Dade County, the ACLU successfully challenged a curfew that had been enacted last year to help check violent crimes against tourists. A county circuit court said the Florida constitution granted more personal rights than those in the United States Constitution. ``We also showed that more crime occurred during noncurfew hours than curfew hours'' even without the curfew in place, Ms. Blummer says.
Lower courts in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and other states have also ruled against curfews, saying they violate state constitutions or federal laws. But last summer, the US Supreme Court let stand a curfew in Dallas.
``Since our curfew was established,'' says Detective Chris Gilliam of the Dallas police department, ``we have not taken a single child into custody for only a curfew violation. They have been charged with this in connection with other crimes.''