Carroll Officials Have Broad Powers But Little Use For Curfews

Crackdown Like Hanover's Unlikely Here, They Say

December 04, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

On July 13, the usually bucolic center of Hanover -- a Pennsylvania borough of about 15,000 people five miles north of the state line -- erupted into chaos as groups of blacks and whites began to taunt and fight each other.

Borough officials, hoping to quell the two-day disturbance that attracted as many as 400 people at a time, began vigorously enforcing Hanover's juvenile curfew laws and invoking their power to declare a state of emergency.

The state of emergency, which kept everyone off the streets from midnight to 5 a.m., lasted until the end of November.

The measures, called necessary in the borough's attempt to prevent any more racial outbreaks, are an example of what law enforcement officials throughout the country are doing to combat crime.

"The ordinance is thereto be used, and the mayor decided to use it," said borough Manager Bruce Rebbert. "The state of emergency was invoked by the mayor to calm everybody down."

While Hanover and other localities throughout the region are using curfew powers in their attempt to keep the streets free from violence and vandalism, don't expect to see Carroll officials turn to that technique any time soon.

"You've really caught me off guard on that one," Sheriff John H. Brown said in response to aquestion about Carroll's curfew laws. "We haven't really had any problems in that area."

In Maryland, as in Pennsylvania, town and county officials are granted broad powers in determining when and if curfews can be imposed.

But while every town in Carroll -- and about half of the municipalities in Maryland -- have youth curfews officially in place, very few teen-agers are being arrested for being out late.

And no municipal official in Carroll could remember invoking a state of emergency, or even expressed a willingness to do so.

"I suppose I have the power to invoke a state of emergency," said Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. "But it's never been an issue here. We'rewell-behaved."

"We don't really use it," said Westminster Police Chief Sam R. Leppo. "Our curfew policy is pretty lenient."

City law says anyone younger than 18 must be off the streets from 10 p.m. toa half-hour before sunrise. Leppo and town officials say they can't remember the last time the curfew was used.

Other county police officials said essentially the same thing: While the right to enforce curfews is spelled out in town law, actually citing someone for a violation is a rarity.

"I believe there's a law on the books, but I have no reason to use it," said Manchester Police Chief David Myers. "We haven't used it since I've been here."

Myers has been chief for about a year. While the ordinance, adopted in 1976, says having juveniles on the streets at night "has created a menace to the preservation of public peace, safety, health morals and welfare," the town has not actively enforced it since then.

Curfews, officials say, are especially useful in breaking up groups of teen-agers who might get together to commit small crimes, such as scrawling graffiti or slashing car tires.

"When we run across violations, we do take action," said Frederick Police Capt. Pierce Stein.

"It has been effective whenwe have problems in certain housing projects."

Citing someone fora curfew violation -- whether a teen-ager out for a late-night snackor an adult taking a midnight walk during a state of emergency -- isrelatively quick and simple.

But, according to the American CivilLiberties Union, using curfews as Hanover did is too often arbitraryand racist, and, therefore, unconstitutional.

"These laws allow the state to reach into our homes and dictate how our children should behave," said Stefan Presser, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Presser said the type of curfew imposed by Hanover often ends up being enforced on minorities more than on whites. In one case in Philadelphia, the ACLU sued the city because a black teen -- at an ice rink with several white teens -- was arrested for curfew violations. The white teens were sent home. The city dropped the charges after several rounds in the legal system.

Curfew violators in Maryland are usually told to go home on a first offense. A second offense will, in most cases, result in a conference with parents, the child and the police.

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