COLUMBIA –Fifth Ward City Councilwoman Laura Nauser is leading the charge to tackle juvenile crime issues in 2009.
Nauser will ask for the City Council’s approval Monday night to have city officials start looking into ways to combat juvenile crime. The long-debated idea of a curfew will be on the table, along with ideas to strengthen truancy policies, influence children in elementary schools and reformat the youth commission to be a joint city-county commission.
“It’s all part of a three-part approach: prevention, intervention and, unfortunately, enforcement,” Nauser said.
Former First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton first proposed a curfew for minors in 1993. The idea was discussed again from 2003 to 2005 but has never gained enough traction to pass.
“She had taken a lot of public comment to not pass it,” City Manager Bill Watkins said. “I think there's been a lot of second thoughts about whether it's time to reconsider and if it will be more acceptable to the community than it was two years ago.”
Nauser said there was a spike in crime in 2007 and several incidents of juvenile violence in 2008, leaving a window of opportunity for the curfew debate to start again.
“I’ve had more positive feedback from people in the community than I would have thought, and I think the key is it needs to be framed that it is not about kicking kids off the streets and finding their parents,” Nauser said.
Nauser said most communities in the area, excluding Boonville and Mexico, already have curfews that weren’t met with outcry or concern from the community. Reports have shown Hallsville and Ashland have seen a decrease in vandalism since they established curfews.
If the council supports the curfew, Nauser would prefer it to be implemented by the end of the school year, in time for summer.
“If parents can’t keep their children in, it’s up to the community to say they cannot tolerate it,” she said.
Nauser has been working with Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller since they attended a juvenile justice summit in Miami, where youth crime has been reduced, earlier this year. Besides the curfew, they want to create a manual for young children that will outline serious consequences that go beyond school discipline.
They also want to strengthen truancy policies, which Nauser said could help students who don’t have support at home succeed. The city, county and school board discussed at a meeting Thursday sending letters to parents whose children frequently don’t show up to school and allocating money for a center for students who are suspended from school.
Nauser’s goal through her three-part approach is to get a handle on juvenile crime but also to hold parents accountable.
“My whole purpose is not just to bring down authority of the legal system on people," Nauser said. "It’s to look at it as prevention. Enforcement is what should be used as a last resort.”