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Some area cities enforce juvenile curfews to curb crime

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Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2012 4:00 am | Updated: 8:21 am, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

After watching the White Oak Roughnecks crush the Ore City Rebels on Friday, Dalton LaFerny reveled in the victory, driving with friends and members of the Roughneck team to a Longview restaurant.

It was 1 a.m. before he got home — a typical Friday night for the 17-year-old high school student who works a part-time job. But if LaFerny lived in Gladewater or Kilgore, his Friday night routine would have him on the wrong side of the law — breaking curfew.

Curfews, aimed at reducing juvenile crime, are common ordinances across East Texas.

“That’s very oppressive to the social life of teens,” LaFerny said.

Like Kilgore and Gladewater, Daingerfield has a juvenile curfew, which Police Chief Tracy Climer said is strictly enforced. There, no one under the age of 17 can be outside between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“Citations will be issued for juveniles breaking the curfew,” Climer said. “Officers will notify the parents and have the juvenile picked up.”

Not far away, the Pittsburg City Council took the opposite approach, recently voting not to pass a curfew. In voting no on the proposal, council members agreed curfews are difficult to enforce, can result in teen profiling and are considered by many to be ineffective at curtailing crime.

“Are you trying to reduce juvenile crime, or are you trying to reduce juvenile victimization?” Police Chief Richard Penn said. “Studies have shown that juvenile crime after the prohibited curfew hour drops, but what they found out was that the juveniles commit the crime while they can be out.”

Who has a curfew?

More than half the towns in Gregg and surrounding counties have enacted juvenile curfews.

Kilgore adopted one in 2010.

“Our curfew has worked,” said Kilgore police Lt. Roman Roberson. “Initially those with concerns came forward. We haven’t had any complaints about our curfew, and it’s been very sound with repeat offenders. It’s another tool in our toolbox to keep those kids at home.”

Other towns, like Gilmer, have had curfews for more than two decades.

“I have been here for 17 years, and it has been in place since I got here,” Assistant Chief T.J. Harris said of Gilmer’s curfew.

The curfews in Overton, Tatum, Gladewater and Kilgore apply to anyone younger than 18, while curfews in Tyler, Big Sandy, Daingerfield and Mount Pleasant are aimed at children 16 and younger.

Several cities, including Longview and Marshall, have chosen not to establish a teen curfew.

“It hasn’t been an item of discussion in recent years,” said Longview spokesman Shawn Hara. “In 1994 it was an item of discussion. They haven’t expressed a desire to implement a juvenile curfew ... If there was a community concern, if it was something they wanted, they could discuss it.”

Other cities without a teen curfew include White Oak, Carthage, Jefferson, Pittsburg and Henderson.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization of cities with populations 30,000 or more, reported in a survey of its members that four out of five cities surveyed had a teen curfew.

Why a curfew?

The survey also revealed that 93 percent of the cities with a curfew consider it — as did Roberson — to be effective in preventing crime committed by minors, and crimes against minors.

“The city officials commented that curfews help to reduce the incidence of juveniles becoming victims by preventing “gathering,” which also means more calls for the police. They said that a curfew compels parents to be more responsible and gives them a specific reason to tell their children they cannot be out after a certain time, and they said that curfews are a good prevention tool, keeping the good kids good and keeping the at-risk kids from becoming victims or victimizers,” according to the survey results from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Roberson said in Kilgore, although preventing teen crime was the first reason for implementing a curfew, another was to help parents who were not responsible for their children.

“The reasons cities have curfews are for bad parenting. Most parents are responsible for their children. But for some, if we were to take these kids home, an hour later they’d be right back out on the street,” Roberson said. “It’s not going to affect the folks that have good parents.”

Cpt. Clayton Taylor of the Overton Police Department said curfews give police a reason to make contact with juveniles.

“We have had this for several years. It gives us a reason to stop them, identify them in case something has happened,” Taylor said.

Enforcement

In most situations, juvenile curfews are enforced through warnings, and then tickets on a second offence.

Taylor said Overton has written two tickets this year.

Kilgore police Lt. Johnathan Gage said the system of enforcement includes checking on the teens’ family life as often as writing a citation.

“Yes, we actually write warning tickets on first offenses to the parents of these children that we find, and then if there are additional instances, we have other options. We can write an actual citation for it or we can forward that to an appropriate agency, CPS, if we believe the child is being neglected, and the needs of a child aren’t being met,” Gage said.

Leif Bales, 18, grew up in Big Sandy, which has a curfew. But, the teen said it was not strictly enforced.

“We just kind of walked around, and never got caught,” Bales said.

Mount Pleasant police Lt. Kyle Holcombe said tickets for juvenile curfew offenses have dropped off significantly the longer the system has been in place.

“It’s officer discretion. We have only had it about three years,” Holcombe said. “We did write a lot at first, but as the juveniles have become aware of the curfew we have had less and less citations.”

Growing up under curfew

Bales, like most teens, said he just wanted to hang out with his friends when he was underage in Big Sandy, which had one of the areas’ earliest curfews, at 10 p.m.

“That was a really big thing. It was debated whether or not to change it. We all talked about it,” Bales said.

He said he had no intention of doing anything criminal – he just wanted to be with friends.

Nancy Case, President of Big Sandy IDS’s Parent Teacher Organization said she never heard any complaints about the curfew.

“I think most people in the community are fine with it because it keeps kids with less supervision at home off the street,” Case said.

Kendra Pierce, who is on the board of Gilmer ISD’s parent teacher organization, said she believes it is a parents responsibility to govern their children, but the police can help.

“I think it’s a good thing because there is no reason for young teens to be out that late,” Pierce said.

Curfew questions

Still, the effectiveness of curfews is a long-standing debate among criminologists.

George Franks, the coordinator of criminal justice program at Stephen F. Austin State University, is not compelled by the evidence for juvenile curfews.

“There is a huge mixed bag in the research, arguments on both sides,” Franks said. “Its effectiveness is sure hard to prove, which usually means you can’t.”

Franks, who spent 26 year in law enforcement, said the only way curfews have proved effective is in thwarting early gang activity.

“If a city begins to have a problem with young gangs and institutes a curfew quickly, it will help limit the growth of the gangs,” Franks said.

More than it not being effective, Franks is concerned about the effects a curfew can have on a teenager.

“I think there are negatives in that you create a negative persona of the police with the teens, for its use,” he said. “The little town where I grew up, strolling around at night, looking at the stars and moon was about all there was to do. If the cops are the one who take that away, you resent them.”

Jeffery Nadel, President of the National Youth Rights Association, not only agrees with Franks – he thinks curfews actually make cities less safe because students and parents have an antagonistic relationship with the police.

Nadel also argues such ordinances are unconstitutional.

“To stop any one group of people from being outside, simply because of their age, is to take away their rights,” Nadel said.

“Study after study consistently have shown us that youth curfews are completely and utterly ineffective both at reducing crime perpetuated by young people and by reducing the victimization of young people,” Nadel said. “It is absolutely unconstitutional. It is fundamentally wrong to suggest that a group of people should be limited in their rights because of their age. Young people’s rights to associate are protected.”

Nadel encourages students in areas with curfews to voice opposition and works with his association to prevent new cities from implementing curfews.

Dalton LaFerny said he is relieved to know he lives in an area without a curfew.

“I know the saying, ‘Nothing good happens after midnight’, but everyone has a busy schedule and this is when we can get together,” LaFerny said.

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