Teen curfews in the suburbs Juvenile crime is a problem, but proposed curfew is overkill.

November 16, 1995

AN EFFORT to impose a late-night curfew on children younger that 17 in Howard and Anne Arundel counties is more like a preventive inoculation than a cure for any specific illness. While there is little doubt that the incidence of juvenile crime has increased in recent years, it has by no means reached crisis proportions in either of these suburban jurisdictions.

Sponsoring delegates Frank S. Turner of Howard and Marcia G. Perry of Anne Arundel describe the legislation as a necessary preventive for problems in the making. Under their bill, parents would be fined $50 for a first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses if their child is picked up after midnight Fridays and Saturdays and after 11 other nights.

But in social policy, as in medicine, inoculations don't come without the threat of troubling side effects. This remedy seems to be a case of legislative overkill.

Generally, places that have adopted youth curfews -- Baltimore and Washington, for example -- have needed to address public safety threats. Drug-related violence had reached epidemic proportions with innocent bystanders being mowed down by stray cross-fire.

One can even make an argument for legislation being considered for a teen curfew in Prince George's County, which has some of Maryland's worst drug markets outside the cities. The proposal there also originated with the County Council, an appropriate source.

State lawmakers should not be in the business of imposing local curfews. This is yet another unfunded mandate. Local police would have the burden of enforcing the curfew even though they are not requesting it. Also, the imposition of conditions on the right to move freely and assemble smacks of big brotherism. Mr. Turner and Ms. Perry insist the law would be used only in special situations "as needed," but nothing in the legislation guarantees this or protects citizens from abuse.

Such feel-good legislating may help the general public vent about young punks and inattentive parents, and makes the sponsors appear to be "tough on crime." But unless unique circumstances dictate otherwise, the guardians of children, not police, should remain the primary arbiters of when it is time for a young person to come in off the street.

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