Controversial year-round curfew debated, delayed

Photo by Mike Sinclair

A controversial city proposal to make a 9 p.m. summer youth curfew year-long in the County Club Plaza, Westport and three other entertainment districts is on hold for three weeks.

The council public safety committee voted for the delay Wednesday. It came after debate that included issues of race and of problems on the Plaza that already surfaced this month with youth fights and arrests.

Committee members said they wanted time to get police statistics and court reports on the two-year-old summer curfew. They also want police to report on the costs of responding to problems versus the costs of enforcing the curfew.

And they wanted time to allow youth, police and officials with Highwoods Properties Inc., owner of the Plaza, to meet and work toward broad solutions, a suggestion made by Mayor Sly James.

Committee chair John Sharp told the mayor, “I think you idea of bringing all the parties together … is exactly the way we should go.”

The current curfew for youths under 18 not accompanied by adults was passed two years ago after a shooting on the Plaza. It starts the Friday before Memorial Day and lasts until the last Sunday in September and also applies to Downtown, 18th and Vine and Zona Rosa.

In a related effort to deal with the problem, James announced this week the expansion of city summer youth activities programs.

The sponsor of the measure extending the curfew, Councilwoman Jan Marcason, told the committee that problems on the Plaza have already started and will get worse when cold weather ends.

“Police are dealing with it, Highwoods is dealing with it,” she said. “The weather is turning warmer.”

Councilman Michael Brooks spoke against the bill.

“We’re putting something in place that is going to affect a lot of people who are not a problem just because a small number of people are a problem,” he said.

Brooks said when he was a black youth he did not feel welcome in the Plaza.

Also, youths could just be getting out of movies at 10 or later, he said, “they should have every right to be out at 10.”

Councilman Jermaine Reed said police told him they issued 34 curfew tickets to parents in 2012 from June to the year’s end and all involved black children.

James said that might not imply racism but “more of an indication of who was there and acting out.”

There needs to be a clear code of conduct posted on the Plaza and maybe incentives like prices off meals for parents who are there with their children, he said.

“Whatever happens, nine times out of 10 you’ve got 100 young people there and no parents,” James said.

He said maybe enforcement should punish the worse offenders – “any parent who has left a 7-year-old, 8-year-old or 10-year-old out at 2 in the morning.”

Councilman Scott Taylor said, “If we had parents doing their job we wouldn’t have to look at something like this, but we don’t and we do.”

He said a three-week delay was too long and voted against it.

“My concern is something will happen potentially before the summer,” Taylor said.

Sharp noted that a separate citywide curfew of 11 p.m. is in effect for youths who are 16 and 17 and for those younger than that the curfew is 10 pm.

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