120 youths picked up in tougher city curfew's first month

Fewer teens than expected taken to curfew centers so far

  • Baltimore City has expanded its new curfew law for minors under 17.
Baltimore City has expanded its new curfew law for minors under… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
September 11, 2014|Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

In the first month of Baltimore's tough new youth curfew, about four kids a night were picked up by police — a smaller-than-expected number that supporters say shows the law is working.

City officials say the figures — which show that police issued 120 curfew violations in the program's first 30 days — indicate that parents and children have gotten the message that young people need to be inside at night.

"The message has gotten out," said City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who sponsored the curfew bill. "The whole point of this was not to grab up thousands of kids. This is about the most vulnerable children. I just simply see fewer kids out by themselves at night."

But others question whether the law is being enforced.

"They got so much push-back from communities and advocacy groups they aren't enforcing it," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who voted against the measure.

Stokes says he believes police are tending to more pressing matters than aggressively enforcing the youth curfew. "I hope the police have the good sense to address real crimes instead of kids playing," he said.

The new curfew, which took effect Aug. 8, updated a city law that had been on the books for 20 years. It requires children younger than 14 to be indoors by 9 p.m. all year long. Youths 14, 15 and 16 can stay out until 10 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and over the summer.

The previous curfew required that minors be inside by midnight Fridays and Saturdays and by 11 p.m. on weekdays, but city officials say it was enforced only on Fridays and Saturdays during summer months when school was out and a curfew center open.

In 2013, police cited 165 youths over the 18 weekend nights the less-restrictive curfew was enforced — or about nine per night.

Of the 120 youths picked up during the first month under the new law, 97 were taken home by police, while 23 ended up at one of the city's two curfew centers, which are open Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. The Baltimore Sun visited a curfew center for two hours Friday night, a period when no youths were brought in by police.

During the month, police gave 14 parents citations that could result in fines of up to $500. City officials said the fines would be waived if the families participate in a "family support workshop." The children do not face charges as a result of a curfew violation.

Angela Johnese, director of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice, said families have been referred to mentoring and counseling services in addition to sports and academic programs. The city has also distributed school supplies to the children, including uniforms and notebooks.

She said no youth's case was so severe that he or she needed to be turned over immediately to the Department of Social Services, but said every child under the age of 13 would be checked on by state officials.

Sonia Kumar, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, praised the city for releasing the data. But she said city officials should track every stop that an officer makes related to the curfew to fully examine the law's impact on residents' civil rights.

"How many people are being stopped? How many are being arrested for something else?" Kumar asked. "Our concern is about the broader impact of this."

Under the new law, the most violations — 37 — came from Baltimore's Southern police district, followed by 27 violations in the Southeast District and 20 in the Western District.

In the south Baltimore neighborhood of Westport, residents expressed mixed views about the curfew.

Janae Wolford, 20, said she liked the tougher curfew but hasn't seen police enforcing it.

"I wish it was more enforced because of everything going on here," she said. "Even with me being 20, I am not outside that late, even on weekends."

Westport community leader Keisha Allen said she shares some of the ACLU's concerns.

"The curfew is a great idea, but it needs to be a teachable moment," she said. "I don't think the younger kids have the judgment to know what to say and what not to say to police and curfew enforcers. ... We don't want them being rough-handled or worse [for] walking down the street from mom's house to grandma's house because they were out after dark."

The city's two curfew centers — at the Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center in Sandtown-Winchester and the Collington Square Recreation Center in the Broadway East neighborhood — are each staffed with at least eight people, including police officers and social workers. The centers are now open only on Friday and Saturday nights, but officials want to eventually open nine centers that would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Johnese said city officials have already seen several kids suffering from mental trauma after seeing violence on Baltimore's streets.

"We're seeing a lot of trauma and grief among young people who are coming to the centers," Johnese said. "We've seen several young people who lost a parent through homicide or other causes. We've seen young people who have witnessed a homicide or saw a body in the street. We're seeing a lot of young people between 13 and 16 who have been exposed to violence in some way."

Scott said cases like those convince him the city is doing the right thing.

"The lives these children are having to live are unacceptable," he said. "We would not know about them were it not for the curfew and the youth connection centers."

He said the real test of the curfew's success is still months — or years — away.

"Did they take us up on the services? How are the kids doing in school?" Scott asked. "That kind of stuff still remains to be seen."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

ywenger@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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