Hotly debated proposal for teen curfew to be voted on by City Council
on October 4, 2011
Forget about being grounded. Beginning next week, Oakland’s young people could be violating city laws if they’re not home on time. In response to the spike in violence by and against youth, the city council will be voting this Tuesday on a proposal to implement a citywide teen curfew.
Written by Senior Policy Advisor for Public Safety Reygan Harmon, and being pushed forward by council president Larry Reid and council member Ignacio De La Fuente, the proposed ordinance is an effort to reduce crime by curtailing young people’s nighttime loitering.
Called the “Juvenile Protection Curfew,” the proposed ordinance would prohibit minors – anyone under 18 – from being outside anywhere in Oakland between 10 pm and 5 am Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 pm to 5 am on Friday and Saturday. The ordinance also includes a daytime curfew, from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm, on school days.
The proposed law includes exceptions for minors who fit one of these categories for the nighttime curfew:
- involved in an emergency
- accompanied by a parent or responsible adult
- running an errand on behalf of a responsible adult
- working, or going to and from work without detours
- attending school, religious, or other adult-supervised activity
- on the sidewalk next to the minor’s home
- in a car traveling interstate
- exercising free-speech rights (by joining a protest, for example)
- legally emancipated.
Exceptions for the daytime curfew, which were added to the draft on Friday, include:
- going to or coming from a medical appointment
- permitted to leave campus for lunch or other school related activities and has a valid, school-issued off-campus permit
- not required by his or her school vacation, track, or curriculum schedule to be in school
- exempt by law from compulsory education or compulsory continued education
“We have three more months left of the year, and we’re up to 87 homicides,” said Reid, one of the curfew’s strongest proponents, in an interview last week. “People live like caged animals behind bars. We need to find a way to at least make it a safe place to live and raise families.”
This is not the first time Oakland has considered a teen curfew. Similar proposed laws have become familiar items on the city council’s agenda. Former mayor Elihu Harris proposed a curfew in 1992, but council members shot it down in 1995, unconvinced that it would deter crime. Instead, the council began drafting alternatives to the curfew the following year – including an increase in recreational programs, job training, and social services.
Reid, who was Chief of Staff at the time, said he supported the curfew then as well. “The council didn’t give it an opportunity to work,” he said. “They put a sunset on it for a year, and so the OPD never took it seriously and ultimately didn’t enforce it.” He tried to resurface the issue in 2009, but again, no curfew was adopted.
On paper, Oakland already has a teen curfew. Two sections of the city’s municipal codes – 9.12.020 and 9.12.030, both of which would be repealed under the terms of the ordinance – prohibit minors under 18 from loitering between 10pm and “sunrise,” and specify penalties for parents who permit the minor to be out during these times. But because the language no longer applies to today, it needs to be cleaned up, said Claudia Burgos, a policy analyst at De La Fuente’s office. “Technically, yes, at one point a curfew was passed by the council,” she said. “But things become outdated, and are no longer enforceable.”
Daniel Macallair, Executive Director of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, said a similar scenario exists across the bay. “In San Francisco, there has been a curfew law on the books since 1987, but it’s never been enforced,” said Macallair, who is opposed to teen curfews as an anti-crime measure. “It’s a quick, political, knee-jerk reaction, rather than based on any reality,” he said.
Oakland’s proposed ordinance was modeled after the curfew in Long Beach, which – first implemented in 1983 and modified in 1988 and 1997 – is regularly enforced. The department is particularly vigilant during spring break, for example, when minors have time off from school. The immediate consequences of the violation are determined by the police officer present, based on the individual circumstance. If young people are found hanging out in public places after 10 pm, there are three routes the officer can take, said Lt. Ty Hatfield, who leads LBPD’s Youth Services section. “The officer can either cite the youth in the field and call the parents, or drive the youth home,” he said. “Or, the officer can bring the youth to the police department and wait for the parent to pick him or her up.”
Today, Long Beach’s teen curfew violators are taken to either the Police Athletic League building or the lobby of the Youth Services section where they are – as determined by the law – kept separated from youth who have committed crimes. Hatfield said that an internal study conducted a few years ago found that there was a thirty percent reduction in violence during the times when the curfew was strongly enforced.
Long Beach’s Police Information Officer (PIO), Nancy Pratt, said she could not provide statistics about the effectiveness of the program per se, but added that there’s no way to measure how many crimes have been prevented because of the curfew. “How do you quantify that?” she said. “We don’t know how many youth have been protected from becoming a victim, or prevented from committing crimes.”
Details of how the curfew would be enforced in Oakland, and how exactly officers would prove that a minor was not involved in one of the exceptions listed in the ordinance – besides asking them their age and reason for being out – have not been made public. If the ordinance is adopted, the OPD and City Administrator, Deanna Santana, will be expected to come up with the answers to those questions within 30 days. “The council can see something as a crime, but it’s up to the police department to enforce it,” said David Muhammad, Alameda County’s Chief Probation Officer. “For the problem that Oakland has, I don’t think curfews are the answer.”
In an interview with Macallair last week, he argued that there is “absolutely no evidence” to support the claim that curfews reduce crime. Macallair, who published a study on teen curfews in 1999, said, “The problem is that it’s a bad use of scarce police resources.” To book a curfew violator, Macallair said, police will have to put the teen in a squad car, complete the transport to a central processing center, write up a report, and in some instances wait for the parents to pick the teenager up – all of which could take at least an hour. If there’s a fine involved, it takes longer.
“There’s a cost,” Macallair said. “If you’re taking the officer away from the streets, he’s not chasing the real bad guys.” Muhammad said he shares this view. “Do I think teens should be off the streets after 10 pm? Absolutely,” Muhammad said. “Do I think the police should use its limited force to enforce it? I don’t think so.”
Beyond tackling juvenile crime, the curfew is also intended to curb violence committed against young people. According to one study cited in the draft ordinance, young people under 18 accounted for 12% of shooting victims between 2008 and 2010. Reid said he, like other parents, is tired of worrying whether his kids will make it home safe. “I know where my 20 year-old daughter is,” he said. “I stay up till late watching them come home. I’m tired of that.”
Macallair’s study, though, asserted that most youth crime – such as burglary or assault against another minor – occurs right after school between 3pm and 6pm. So why not have more after school programs and recreational activities, he argues, that focus on what kids can do, rather than what they can’t? “How can you force someone to go into these programs?” Reid asked. “We’ve got to figure out a way to reengage families back with their loved ones.”
The curfew proposal has troubled some who argue that it could create deeper rifts between residents in low-income, minority neighborhoods and law enforcement. This is because there’s no way to ensure that every neighborhood would be equally policed, said Macallair.
When asked how he would respond to arguments that the curfew proposal would stir racial profiling, Reid said it has become an excuse for blocking what he describes as a measure needed most in the city’s higher-crime neighborhoods. “Look at who’s dying. Who’s committing the violence?” he said. “It is the Latinos and African Americans who are dying on the streets and killing themselves. These are the communities that are suffering the greatest amount of violence.”
Among the victims of this violence was 3-year-old Carlitos Nava, whose death this past August was among those that triggered Reid, De La Fuente, and other concerned residents to take action. Carlitos’ family, however, is opposed to the curfew. “A lot of people are afraid of cops,” one of Carlito’s cousins, Jose Nava told reporters. “I believe we need to reach out to the community in a better way.”
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