BALTIMORE — The Baltimore City Council is poised to pass new curfews to keep children off the street late at night. If passed, it would be among the strictest in the country.
Champions of the bill argue that an earlier curfew would help prevent Baltimore’s youth from falling victim to, or committing, violent crimes, and help identify children suffering from neglect. Critics say the stringent bill could unfairly target African American children and teenagers.
The new law would require children under 14 to be home by 9 p.m. Teenagers between 14 and 16 would have to be home by 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends. Parents whose children violate the curfew would have to undergo family counseling or pay a $500 fine.
The bill also would require police officers to request identification from a young person caught on the street past curfew.
Current law says youths under 17 must be home at 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
Baltimore’s new curfew law will be more stringent than many other cities, including those with higher violent crime rates.
St. Louis, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee are two of the country’s most violent cities, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics for 2012. Those cities require youth under 17 to be indoors at 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.
The Baltimore City Council is scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday. The council members, all Democrats, approved it 11-2 in a May 12 preliminary vote.
According to statistics from the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, the number of juveniles brought to the center has declined dramatically over the past three years. Angela Johnese, director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, said the decrease is due to greater awareness of curfew enforcement.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in February announced a plan to replace the city’s existing curfew center with several 24-hour, year-round Youth Connection Centers. The first such center is slated to open in the next year.
Councilman Brandon Scott, the bill’s sponsor, said the curfew “is not about rounding up thousands of teenagers.”
“If (children) are out there that late by themselves, that’s an indicator that they and their families need services,” Scott said.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said keeping children indoors will help break a cycle of violent crime.
“We know that when children are on the streets late at night without adult supervision, they are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of violent crimes,” Rawlings-Blake said.
But Councilman Carl Stokes, who voted against the bill along with Councilman Warren Branch, said there should be a greater emphasis placed on developing programs than beefing up punitive measures.
Stokes called the curfew bill “a false effort to avoid the more obvious proactive methods we should be using to engage young people, encourage them and give them opportunities for growth.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sent a letter of opposition to the City Council. juliet
Sonia Kumar, an ACLU attorney, said the curfew law “essentially criminalizes people for just being outside,” and could unfairly target children in poor black neighborhoods with a heavy police presence.
Kim Ellis, a mother of two teenage boys, said she is uncomfortable with the idea that police can approach her sons for simply being outside.
“I was born and bred and educated in Baltimore, and I’ve seen police brutality here,” Ellis said. “To have someone walk up to my children with a gun, who might not necessarily respect them, is unnerving. I personally don’t need the city to police my children.”
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