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Columbia Black Roundtable objects to Boone County youth curfew bill

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Efforts to impose a curfew on Columbia teens continue to face persistent opposition from teens and parents, as well as some government officials.

On Monday, the Columbia Black Roundtable expressed its objection to a bill sponsored by state Sen. Kurt Schaefer to enable Boone County to establish a curfew.

The Roundtable represents several area churches, some sororities and fraternities, NAACP and Minority Men.

Schaefer's bill would give the county the authority to impose curfews on adolescents under the age of 17. Anyone found violating these curfews could be charged with a misdemeanor.

A parent or guardian who has knowledge of the violation could also be charged with a misdemeanor.

Schaefer predicted enough support in the state legislature for the bill to pass. It has drawn local support from the Columbia Police Department, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman and other local officials.

The city of Columbia currently has the ability to enact a similar curfew, but it has not done so. At least two county commissioners say they want the county to have the same authority to sanction a curfew as the city.

Presently, the only curfew in place is a state-mandated drivers license restriction. A driver aged 16 to 18 with a Missouri drivers license cannot drive alone between 1 and 5 a.m.

Members of Columbia's City Council have proposed a youth curfew at least three times, most recently last year. Each time, the idea has met opposition, despite support from Hindman and the police department.

Mary Ratliff and Robert Ross, co-chairs of The Black Roundtable, said they would prefer alternative youth programs in the city to a curfew.

"There are alternatives to a curfew," Ratliff said.  "We hope we can halt the bill in the Senate before it gets too far. We want to empower parents to have control over their children."

Some parents of teens agree with Ratliff, arguing that they alone should maintain the right to impose curfews, not the city or the county.

"My son is 17 and has a 12 o'clock curfew," said Whitney Gibbens, the mother of a Hickman High School student. "Our opinion is nothing good happens after midnight."

Other parents object to the bill because it does not include provisions for school-related activities.

Gary Raboin, also the parent of a Hickman student, said the football and basketball teams travel to away games as far as Kansas City and St. Louis. Sometimes, the students drive themselves.

He said he did not think teens should be punished for driving home from a game after 11 p.m.

In a survey conducted Wednesday by the Columbia Missourian in a World Studies class at Rock Bridge High School, 18 of 24 teens opposed a curfew. They gave us their responses in writing.

Among those opposing the curfew, Luke Volkmann, 16, wrote that he is "offended that everyone 16 and under is lumped in with a small group of people who are actually committing crimes, people who probably would commit crimes regardless of the time."

Wes Peery, 17, also pointed out that a curfew "would help cut down on crime to a certain degree, but it would be hard to catch 16-year-olds, just like it's hard to control texting and driving."

Six teens supported a curfew.

"It gives police a better chance at stopping crime," said Justin Pierce, 17.

The bill, however, does have supporters at the city, county and state level. Hindman said police need to be able to handle troubling situations with youth after hours.

"[The curfew] gives police a needed extension of their power," he said.

Police Chief Ken Burton has been on record a number of times in support of a curfew.

Before he came to Columbia, Burton served as police chief in Haltom City, Texas, where he has said a curfew was effective in deterring crime. He has endorsed Schaefer's bill, citing the success of curfews in other cities. 

At least 500 U.S. cities have curfews on teenage youth, including 78 of the 92 cities with a population greater than 180,000, according to www.citymayors.com.

Jessie Haden, spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department, said a youth curfew would be a valuable tool for law enforcement.

If minors are out late at night and endangering themselves, "we can use this ordinance to take them into protective custody," she said.

She also listed other disturbances associated with late-night crime such as vandalism, petty theft off porches and out of cars, mailbox vandalism and even assault.

"In order to access those situations we would welcome any tools the city wants to give us," Haden said.

County commissioners Karen Miller and Skip Elkin approve of the bill, saying it is an instrument the county needs.

"If we can stop these kids from being out late at night when they're young, they won't do it when they're older," Miller said. "It's just a tool. It was never meant to be punitive."

Elkin wants the county to have the same authority as the city of Columbia to establish a curfew policy.

"This is enabling legislation," he said. "We need to work with the city of Columbia and other municipalities in the county to make sure we're all on the same page."

Schaefer's bill does not specify the hours a curfew would be in effect. When youth curfews for Columbia have been discussed in the past, suggested hours were 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and midnight through 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.


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