Another unenforceable curfew?

November 19, 1993

American big-city life now is wrought with so many forms of uncontrolled behavior and dangers that any likely panacea seems worth entertaining.

That's why Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly of the District of Columbia recently requested the National Guard be called to help patrol and safeguard the nation's capital. That's also why the Baltimore City Council is entertaining two proposals to strengthen existing curfew restrictions on children.

Baltimore already has two curfew laws for children. One makes it illegal for children under age 15 to be in public places or establishments without a cause from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from midnight to 6 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The other law tries to make sure children go to school by prohibiting kids ages 6 through 15 from hanging around in public places on school days from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

We have seen no evidence that either of these laws is aggressively enforced. The reason is clear: police find the laws too much of a hassle. Apprehension of culprits -- particularly if they are in groups -- is in itself risky and dangerous. And if an officer makes an arrest, it results in a time-consuming bureaucratic runaround. Meanwhile, that officer is removed from routine patrols.

So the politicians pass a law and the police ignore it. It happens every day. Just think of the jaywalking and boombox laws and scores of other well-meaning and futile regulations. The two bills now before the City Council would raise the curfew age to 16 and advance its Sunday-through-Thursday weekday starting time to 10 p.m. Curfew for minors under 13 would start at sundown.

The bills would require "a police officer to take a curfew violator to the minor's home or to a Police Department juvenile holding center," require "the parent or guardian to pick up a detained minor" and create an elaborate fee and penalty system to penalize violators.

Kids hanging out at all hours, getting into mischief and ending up in the crossfire of drug dealers is a serious problem in Baltimore City. We all know the central reason: dysfunctional families and parents who have failed in their parental responsibilities and have lost control over their children's -- and usually also their own -- lives.

Can this be cured by legislation? We seriously doubt it. Passing more curfew legislation is not the answer. There is no quick fix to Baltimore City's problems, and elected council members ought to admit it.

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