Juvenile curfews gaining popularity Cities like them: But laws are no substitute for good youth programs or good parents.

December 27, 1997

THERE WAS A hell of a fight two years ago in Baltimore over the imposition of an updated juvenile curfew law. New data released this month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors indicates curfews are growing in popularity and are being given partial credit for drops in juvenile crime. The information suggests Baltimore was right to continue its curfew law, but public officials must keep in mind the tool has only limited value.

Baltimore first imposed a curfew in 1983 that prohibited unsupervised minors from being on the street after 11 p.m. The shooting of a 10-year-old boy led to passage of an even tougher law in 1994, but it couldn't stand up to constitutional scrutiny. The City Council argued back and forth about revising the curfew or getting rid of it. Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said he needed the curfew as part of his arsenal. A new law was signed in 1995.

The Conference of Mayors study showed 88 percent of the more than 300 cities that participated in a survey believe juvenile curfews make their streets safer, 83 percent believe curfews help curb gang violence and only 23 percent of the cities said they found the laws difficult to implement or expensive. Mr. Frazier said the law is most effective as a tool to disperse crowds of young people.

The Baltimore debate over curfews led to a much needed discussion of recreation services for juveniles that would also help keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Unfortunately, subsequent budget cuts actually led to a reduction of city rec center programs that served that purpose. With budget analysts predicting increased revenue collections this year, youth recreation ought to become a priority.

The city's curfew law should continue to be used as a tool, when necessary. The American Civil Liberties Union has complained that curfews usurp the legal authority of parents, who have a right to set limitations on their children. However, teen curfews typically have to be used when parents are setting no limits at all. Curfews are no substitute for responsible parenthood. But they can be useful when no one else tells a kid it's time to go home.

Pub Date: 12/27/97

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