ASHLAND- As the sun set on Ashland’s City Park, all was quiet except the cicadas and three Ashland teens enjoying one of their last nights of summer.
Nothing will change, J.P. Craig, Austin Berendzan and Chris Duhon, all 14, said in response to a new curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. imposed for Ashland residents age 15 and under.
“They’re still going to be out,” Craig said of his peers while looking around the empty park. “Come back around 2 (a.m.)”
Many younger teens are out around 2 and 3 in the morning without their parents’ knowledge, said David Thomas, a member of the city’s Board of Alderman.
Ashland Police Chief Scott Robbins said parents might be unaware of their child’s whereabouts because teens are lying about where they go at night. Some teens said, though, their parents simply don’t care.
In any case, Thomas said the curfew, which was approved Aug. 7, will help police get kids back to their homes.
“They need to be where they can get to school and not be tired,” he said.
The curfew was a response to vandalism in the park, city officials said.
In February, young residents smashed picnic tables, causing about a thousand dollars in damage, Robbins said. He said police caught two kids, ages 9 and 10, who admitted to breaking a few of the boards, but those responsible for most of the damage were never found.
After the incident, the city park board spoke before the aldermen about limiting hours in the park, Alderman Mike Jackson said. The aldermen took that request a step further by making a citywide curfew to keep vandalism from spreading to the streets, he said.
Robbins said Ashland experiences “continuous acts of vandalism” and the “park being smashed up was the last straw.”
Before the Board of Aldermen invoked the curfew, police could only ask young residents to go home. But now, police have the authority to make them go home, he said.
“We don’t feel we have a big problem, but it does give the officers in the evening a tool to work with,” Jackson said.
Robbins said police enforced the curfew over the weekend, sending a group of kids home to their parents from a party. He said the young people were given warnings.
If the problem persists, parents and teens can expect more than a slap on the wrist, Robbins said.
Under the curfew ordinance, police can issue a $50 fine to parents for a first offense and up to $500 for repeat offenses.
Beyond fines, teens can be sent to the juvenile system and parents can be taken to court and charged with child abuse and neglect, Robbins said.
The community has reacted to the curfew with “overwhelming support,” Jackson said.
But to a young teen sitting on his bike in the park, the curfew is unfair.
“Not everyone should get in trouble for it,” Berendzan said. “The cops should figure out who’s doing it.”
“Maybe they (minors) wouldn’t get in so much trouble if there was something to do,” he added. “They don’t have no skating rink, movies, nothing.”
Jackson said the aldermen sought to start a YMCA a few years ago but found that Ashland is not big enough to support one.
The board has also organized general focus groups in which the topic of activities for young teens came up, he said. Some teens did attend to give their opinions.
“We would like to hear what kids would like to do and what they want,” Jackson said. “There’s not a lot to do, but there’s nothing we resolved in that area.”
Jackie Borchardt contributed to this article.