COLUMBIA — While Columbia officials and residents begin to line up for or against the idea of a curfew for teens — raised recently by Mayor Darwin Hindman and Councilwoman Laura Nauser — several neighboring communities have had a teen curfew for years and say they've seen a reduction in youth crime.
But some Columbia community leaders, educators and teens say Columbia doesn't need a curfew, that it won't work or that there are better alternatives to keep kids out of trouble.
The constitutionality of curfews has been challenged across the U.S. and has prompted mixed rulings from courts.
Rochester, N.Y., 2009 — Unconstitutional because it violates parents’ due process rights to permit their minor children to be out after curfew.
Indianapolis, 2004 — Unconstitutional because it didn’t require police to question minors before making an arrest, a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Vernon, Conn., 2003 — Unconstitutional because it infringed on the rights of minors under the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause. Minors and adults should be treated alike.
San Diego, 1997 — Unconstitutional because a curfew would violate a minor’s freedom of movement and expression and doesn’t address the problem of juvenile crime.
Miami, 1994 — Unconstitutional because it intruded on the privacy rights of minors and there was no “compelling” need for the law.
Seattle, 1973 — Unconstitutional because the courts stated “juvenile curfew ordinances may be permissible where they are specific in their prohibitions and necessary in curing a demonstrated social evil."
Upheld as constitutional
Dallas, 1993 — The court found that Dallas had created a specific enough ordinance that minors’ First Amendment rights were protected and the allowed the city to increase the safety of minors and reduce juvenile crime.
Washington, 1999 — Curfew modeled after Dallas curfew and upheld for the same reasons.
Charlottesville, N.C., 1998 — Curfew modeled after Dallas curfew and upheld for the same reasons.
Anchorage, Alaska, 2004 — Curfew modeled after Dallas curfew and upheld for the same reasons.
Nauser has acknowledged the lack of consensus about the curfew.
Former Councilwoman Almeta Crayton first proposed the idea to the City Council in 2002, but there was no support for it. In April 2008, Nauser submitted a policy paper to the council outlining 28 ideas to address youth and family issues, including a curfew.
The proposed curfew in Columbia would likely apply to people younger than 17 after 11 p.m. on weekdays and Sunday and midnight on Friday and Saturday.
According to Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, people younger than 18 committed one-fifth of the crimes in Columbia in 2008 even though they make up less than a quarter of its population.
Nauser said the idea was in response to high youth crime rates in 2007.
"We are seeing a number of crimes committed by juveniles late at night," she said in a recent e-mail.
The June 6 robbery of a 25-year-old Columbia man by a group of juvenile males in a parking garage at 100 S. Tenth St. occurred at 1 a.m. But a second robbery two weeks later in which an MU student was robbed and assaulted by two juveniles outside the Hitt Street parking garage took place at 9:45 p.m.
Whether a curfew would be effective alone or in conjunction with other youth-targeted measures, it seems certain to get an airing this summer with the mayor, Nauser and new Police Chief Ken Burton supporting it.
Other places, other curfews
Although Columbia has apparently never had a curfew, Columbia Mall has had one since February 2007. The mall policy requires people younger than 16 to be accompanied by someone 21 or older after 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Crimes and other incidents there fell by 50 percent after the curfew took effect, mall representatives said in previous Missourian stories.
The mall's curfew came in response to teens who were crowding in the hallways, not shopping and keeping families from "enjoying the shopping experience," Columbia Mall General Manager Janet Henderson said, though she didn't have quick access to the most recent statistics.
Among Columbia's neighbors, Ashland is the most recent city to put a curfew in place, in August 2007. The curfew was proposed because of a number of juvenile offenses that occurred in a short period of time, Ashland Police Chief Anthony Consiglio said.
The Ashland curfew prohibits people under 17 from being in public between midnight and 5 a.m. with the possibility of a $50 to $500 fine.
“It’s a tool in our municipal ordinances, but we haven’t really had to use it,” Consiglio said. “It’s a pre-emptive strike, so to speak.”
The pre-emptive measure seems to be working in the 2,200-person city, as the youth-adult crime ratio in Ashland dropped from 40.5 percent to 29 percent between 2007 and 2008.
The city of Hallsville also claims success with its curfew, which was implemented in 1996. It prohibits people under 17 from being in public from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and midnight to 5 a.m. Friday to Saturday with the possibility of a fine, community service or both.
“I’d say it’s working,” Hallsville Patrol Officer Caleb Moore said. “It’s kind of one of those things we don’t have to enforce too often.”
Police officers in the 960-person city of Hallsville said it has been effective in keeping kids off the streets. Statistics for youth crime in Hallsville are unavailable before 2001.
Centralia has had a curfew on the books since 1918, Centralia Police Department Cpl. Paul Morgan said. In the original ordinance, it was deemed unlawful "for any youth under the age of 18 years to be upon the public streets of the city after the hour of nine o'clock p.m. for the purpose of loitering, loafing or wandering about." Juvenile delinquents could be fined $1 to $5, and the marshal would notify their parents.
Morgan said he thinks the current version has been effective. Implemented in 1994, it prohibits people under 16 from being in public from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. daily with the possibility of a fine, community service or both.
“It’s been enforced enough that we very seldom encounter juveniles under the age of 16 after 11 p.m.” he said.
Police in the 3,800-person city said the curfew has been effective in keeping youth off the street. Statistics for youth crime in Centralia are also unavailable from before 2001.
Under 17, opinions differ
Although officials in these cities seem to like curfews, those affected — people under 17 — have a mixed view of the regulation.
Ashland teenager and lifeguard Connor McGarry, 16, thinks the curfew in Ashland is unnecessary.
“It’s not like it keeps everyone from going out. We usually just avoid Ashland city limits,” he said.
On the other hand, fellow lifeguard Steven Babcock, 16, thinks Ashland’s curfew is a good thing.
“It keeps a lot of the hoodlums out of the street,” he said.
Babcock, who has his own curfew with his parents, feels unaffected by the city curfew. The latest he’s been allowed to stay out is midnight, and that was for a school dance.
Ashland resident Alex Terrell, 13, who was skateboarding through a parking lot at the Break Time in Ashland, said he likes the curfew. So does his friend, Anthony Chavez, 12.
“It’s kind of a good idea because I think it’s better for people to be safe,” he said.
He and Alex have curfews set by their parents of 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively.
As they played video games at Columbia arcade Virtual Arena, Columbia residents Joseph Boettcher, 12, and Hayden Mahieu, 15, said they would be unaffected by the curfew.
“No one’s ever out that late,” Joseph said. “I’d usually be playing video games or in bed. Well, at 11 I’d be watching 'South Park.'”
Hayden also said he thinks a curfew is unnecessary. “I don’t think it would stop a lot of people from going out at night," he said. "They’ll just do it anyway.”
Some Columbia teenagers, however, were more opposed to the idea of a curfew. Larry Green, 15, who was standing in front of his house near Douglass High School, said he thinks it’s a bad idea.
“It’s the summertime. We should be out enjoying our summer,” he said.
Jakayla Prowell, 15, agreed. “It’s hot during the day, so kids like to come out when the sun’s down. Kids still gotta have their fun,” she said.
Whether kids support the idea of a curfew, they may have to adapt to one for the first time in Columbia’s history.
Former mayor Clyde Wilson said that to his knowledge, Columbia has never had a curfew.
Burton would like to change that. He supports the nighttime curfew proposed by Nauser, believing it would work well as a pre-emptive measure in Columbia. But he also supports a daytime curfew during the school year. He proposes that people under 17 would be required to be in school and off the streets during school hours.
If you prevent teenagers from committing crimes, Burton said, they'll be less likely to do it when they're older.
Before taking the police chief job in Columbia, Burton was the chief in Haltom City, Texas, where a curfew was in place. Burton called Haltom City a “declining community” where the population was a mix of retirees and people of a lower economic class.
“The retired people are the ones that vote, and I’ll tell you that’s how it got voted in in Haltom City,” Burton said.
“What kids in Columbia would be subject to would be being stopped by the police if they’re on the streets during the school day,” Burton said.
If stopped, officers would ask juveniles where they were supposed to be. If a juvenile provided a legitimate reason for being out, such as a dentist appointment, they would be allowed to continue on their way.
“You go on to the dentist,” Burton said. "You may even get a ride to the dentist."
Dealing with Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools' open campus lunch periods would require flexibility on the part of officers, Burton said.
“We know when kids should be out and when it’s appropriate for kids to be out, and the officers will know when it’s not,” Burton said.
Hickman High School Principal Mike Jeffers likes the curfew idea. “I think as long as it’s enforced, it can be an effective means to keep kids off the street at inappropriate hours,” he said.
Douglass High School Principal Brian Gaub said he was doubtful it would have the desired effect.
“Increasing the number of laws does not automatically decrease the amount of crime,” he said.
Glenn Cobbins, a community organizer for the Imani Mission Center, doesn’t like the idea either.
“To me, when you’re talking about a curfew, you’re talking about putting a fence around Columbia,” Cobbins said. He said programs and support groups for youths would be a good alternative to a curfew.
But programs for youth are not enough, Hindman said at the news conference he and Nauser held earlier this month to talk about youth crime and the curfew idea. “I have here a seven-page document that lists the parks and recreation programs that are made available to youth,” he said.
Burton agrees that programming is not a complete solution. “To somebody that says kids need alternative programs, I recommend sleep after 11 p.m. and during the daytime I recommend school,” Burton said. "Those are the primary alternative programs that are already there."
Burton said he also wants to build in a “sunset provision" that would bring the curfew before the council on a regular basis to evaluate the continuing need for one.
“If you could see a reduction in the contacts that police have with kids under 17 during certain hours, I think you could document that pretty easily,” Burton said.