Group seeks youth curfew

Late-night limits proposed for those younger than 17

Council to consider plan

January 08, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A group of Anne Arundel County residents is asking the County Council to create a curfew for people younger than age 17 that it believes would solve nuisance problems in neighborhoods.

A curfew of midnight Friday and Saturday nights and 11 p.m. other nights has been requested by members of the county's Western District Police Community Relations Council. Under the proposal - based on the curfew law in Laurel City - it also would be illegal for children to be in public places when school is in session.

"We're trying to do something to help the community by giving police officers another tool," said Mary Cooper, a community council member who has lived in the Russett neighborhood for nearly a decade. Dave Daughters, community relations council president, said the group studied curfews in other cities for several years. He said nearly 88 percent of 222 west county residents responding to a survey last year supported the idea to allow police to remove children from corners and streets late at night.

Under current law, police can stop juveniles only if they are disturbing the peace, blocking sidewalks or committing a criminal act.

But the proposal, scheduled to be addressed at the County Council's work session today, could face opposition.

The penalties are one aspect of the proposed curfew that the state American Civil Liberties Union finds troubling, said spokesman Dwight H. Sullivan. Youths out after the appointed hour could face a misdemeanor violation, and parents also could be subject to penalties, including a $500 fine or 60 days in jail.

"We don't hold parents responsible for a kid who commits assault or battery ... or some other crime," he said. "It's not a good policy and interferes with the rights of children and parents.

"It punishes the good kids to try to deter the bad kids who are least likely to obey the curfew in the first place," Sullivan said.

Curfew opposition

Other curfews considered for the county have run into opposition. In 1995, state delegates representing Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties proposed a youth curfew that would have covered much of Central Maryland.

The sponsors abandoned the legislation, noting concerns about violating constitutional rights and about the potential for police to selectively enforce the law in minority neighborhoods.

Juvenile curfews reached the height of their popularity in the mid-1990s, when hundreds of U.S. cities enacted laws that made it illegal for juveniles to be unsupervised in public places after a certain hour. But many of the curfew laws have been challenged in courts. Although courts struck down curfews in places such as Washington and Frederick, Prince George's County and Baltimore City have juvenile curfews.

But in Anne Arundel, Cooper said, "I think most young people won't even be affected by this."

Students' comments

Allison O'Dea, a junior at Old Mill High School, agreed. The Crownsville 16-year-old said she and her friends have provisional driver's licenses that prohibit them from driving after midnight. "I don't think it would change what we do," she said. "We'd be home by the [curfew] anyway."

Exemptions from the curfew would include young people who are accompanied by parents or guardians, or on errands at the direction of their parents. In addition, those going to and from work, or to a medical appointment would not be subject to the law.

Also exempt would be those involved in an emergency; those participating in a homeschooling program; and those attending a county, school, religious, civic event or other recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by an organization responsible for the children.

Many teens say they think the curfew wouldn't deter juveniles from loitering or vandalism. "I think it will hurt good kids more than it helps deal with bad ones," said Jathan Biddlecomb, a 16-year-old senior at Severna Park High School. "I can see stiffening the penalty for disturbing the peace or cracking down on teen drivers with provisional licenses. But your average juvenile doesn't pose a danger simply by being in public after a certain hour."

Although Steve Waskiewicz, a senior at Arundel High School, said most nights he has to be home by 10 p.m., he doesn't think a curfew would be effective unless it is enforced by police across-the-board. "The responsible kids are the only ones who are going to follow it. It puts more restrictions on us, and we're not doing bad stuff in the first place," he said.

Support for plan

But residents such as Roger Fox of Harmans Woods and Carl C. Brooks of Glen Burnie support the curfew.

"The ordinance isn't saying teens can't go to the movies or do an errand," Fox said. "It's targeting those wandering around aimlessly at night."

"There are exceptions for teens attending school events and things like that," he added. "It's not as draconian as people might think."

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