Even though juvenile crime in Columbia tends to cool down with the onset of cold weather, the Columbia branch of the NAACP is still discussing ways to keep children out of trouble.
The NAACP has been trying to gather community feedback and invited First Ward residents to attend its meeting Tuesday night to discuss alternatives to a proposed curfew.
Trying to encourage involvement
NAACP members were disappointed by the lack of community presence at the meeting, but understood because the meeting was originally scheduled for Oct. 28. Mary Ratliff, Columbia’s NAACP president, said she planned on notifying residents of the date change, but was not sure how effective she had been.
Ratliff said she did not want to discuss specific alternatives without community input because residents are the ones who will be affected by the suggestions.
“We need to get (the kids) and parents here,” she said.
After hearing opposition from the NAACP in June, First Ward City Councilwoman Almeta Crayton tabled a proposed curfew ordinance.
The ordinance, which would have made it illegal for those 17 and under to be in public places after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, was proposed as a way to cut down on juvenile crime.
Exceptions to the curfew would include emergencies, traveling to and from a place of employment, accompaniment by someone 21 or older and participation in official religious, school and recreational activities.
When Ratliff invited community members to the meeting, she also asked them to complete a survey about the curfew.
Results of the survey showed that many people felt a problem with juvenile crime did exist, but almost everyone answered that a curfew was not the answer. People thought it was a parental issue and more youth programming was needed.
Crayton said she has no plans to bring the ordinance back to the City Council. She has not heard from the NAACP recently and is still waiting to hear its suggestions.
Ratliff said she does not feel a sense of urgency in coming up with alternatives.
“We want to come up with something that is not fly by night,” she said. “We do understand that we have a responsibility to the community.”
Convincing other community leaders
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said he has not heard any talk about the curfew ordinance since this summer and is not aware of any suggested alternatives.
He said there has not been a significant change in the number of juvenile crimes committed but he still supports a curfew in Columbia.
“I think it would be a useful tool,” he said.
Fifth Ward City Councilman John John said he has not heard about the ordinance since it was tabled. While he would have voted in favor of the ordinance, he said he respects Crayton’s decision.
He said the council is not awaiting an alternative suggestion. If Crayton brings one to the table, John said the council will look at it.