Columbia, county officials discuss introducing curfews for juveniles

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 10:35 p.m. CDT; updated 12:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 15, 2009

COLUMBIA  — Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser is reviving the idea of establishing a curfew, but this time she and new Police Chief Ken Burton are adding a twist: a daytime curfew as well.

At a joint meeting of the Columbia City Council, the Boone County Commission and the Columbia School Board, Nauser shared her progress on drafting an ordinance for the day and evening curfews.

Former First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton twice proposed curfews. The City Council in 2003 was poised to vote on a curfew ordinance, but Crayton withdrew it because of intense criticism, according to a previous Missourian report.

Nauser said that a curfew is now appropriate for Columbia; she noted crime rates, more instances of juvenile violence and interest from citizens as reasons to adopt it.

"We are learning from neighborhoods that they want to adopt a curfew," Nauser said.

The daytime curfew proposed by Burton would allow police officers to act like truant officers of the past. It would give them the authority to approach people they believe should be at school, ask why they’re not and send them to class if that’s where they belong, Nauser said.

An evening curfew would require folks younger than 17 to be off the streets during certain hours. Previous proposals have set those hours as 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and midnight to 5:30 a.m. on weekends.

Nauser also said she wants to avoid simply ticketing children and kicking them off the streets. She wants the curfew to work in conjunction with other programs designed to deter youth crime and violence.

“The key is what you do once you bring kids in,” she said.

Nauser had originally hoped to establish the curfew by this summer, but she is continuing to gather input from community members, including NAACP president Mary Ratliff, who was a harsh critic of Crayton’s proposal.

"No, my thoughts have not changed (on the curfew)," Ratliff said Wednesday. "We are meeting and discussing the options. Right now we are talking about the pros and cons."

Representatives of the the county, the city and the school board endorsed a daytime and evening curfew as a means of curbing risky behavior and reducing truancy.

Boone County Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller has been working with Nauser to create a countywide curfew, and the county is lobbying the state legislature to give it the authority to do so. They want to prevent teenagers from simply crossing the city limits to avoid the ordinance.

The curfew also was among several recommendations from the Juvenile Task Force, which strives to solve problems with truancy, dropouts, fighting, substance abuse, gangs and children lacking adult supervision.

Task force members and school district administrators Wanda Brown and Lynn Barnett told the group that just the threat of being caught under the daytime curfew could deter students from skipping classes.

In addition to the curfew, the task force suggested creating a marketing campaign to reinforce the importance of education and retooling policies regarding truancy, dropouts and suspended students.

Despite only 191 students dropping out last year – the lowest number Columbia Public Schools has seen in recent memory, Barnett said – the task force wants to continue its focus on reducing the dropout rate.

“That's 191 students too many," Barnett said.

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Ray Shapiro April 29, 2009 | 10:54 p.m.

In consideration of juvenile delinquency and gang activity on the rise, day time truant officers and night-time curfews seem to elevate adult authority over youths who have neglectful parents.
Ms. Nauser and Chief Burton are on the right track. This may be Mary Ratliff's last chance to show if she cares about the community at-large or whether she is still part of the problem.

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