The proposed curfew is county-wide, but much of the debate has focused on downtown Silver Spring, a once lackluster stretch that has been transformed in recent years and now draws big crowds. This month, the Fillmore theater is scheduled to open and bring in even more people. As recent nighttime visits show, the streets are busy and friendly.
After 11 p.m. Friday, Guinean nanny Amina Traore, 23, emerged from Ramadan services at a nearby civic center wearing a black-and-white African gown. Her 3-year-old nephew ran up and down the closed-off street yelling, “I’m Spider-Man-Superman!
Two-year-old Bryanna Rodriguez spun in circles, licking vanilla ice cream that looked pink in the red-neon glow of Silver Spring’s Majestic theater. Bryan Rodriguez, 5, climbed into their younger brother, Bryseidy’s, stroller, lying back to get comfortable.
Their parents, Eudy Rodriguez and Yudi Arevalo, both 23, enjoy the downtown but don’t always feel secure.
Problems percolate when crowds surge with the pristine weather or during festivals, Rodriguez said, calling the curfew “100 percent a good idea.” Some young people “just make dramas for nothing, fighting,” Arevalo said.
Just before 1 a.m. Saturday, Yory Martinez, 17, of Rockville walked in the same area with a friend. Martinez is starting his junior year in high school. He could, under the curfew proposal, be a violator.
“It’s not right,” Martinez said. “It’s the weekend. It’s supposed to be enjoyed, not under control.”
Leggett, the leading proponent of the curfew, said the aim is to stop trouble before it happens. “I’m going to err on the side of providing protection,” Leggett said. “You don’t want to wait until the problem consumes you. I’m not going to do that.”
Although overall crime and gang incidents in the county are down, Leggett and Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said they worry about increased juvenile arrests, and not just in Silver Spring.
At a recent council meeting, Manger ticked off some summertime incidents: 12:45 a.m., Bethesda, three juveniles arrested trying to break into a car; 3 a.m., a neighborhood four miles west of downtown Silver Spring, two groups of kids flashed gang signs, and one was stabbed; 12:30 a.m., Olney, a juvenile stabbed during a drug deal.
But such late-night crimes are hardly the norm. Last year in the county, youths were arrested in connection with about 323 assaults, only 25 of which happened after proposed curfew hours. Juveniles were arrested in connection with 54 robberies in 2010, nine of those during times the curfew would be in effect.
“Typically curfews aren’t that effective. They target the wrong hours, and they don’t have any teeth,” said John Roman, a senior fellow in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, which studied Prince George’s County’s curfew in the late 1990s.
Council members Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said they also are concerned about the possibility of racial profiling. And they said a curfew wouldn’t deter the most dangerous teenagers.
Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), who is black, said he’s “90 percent there” in supporting the curfew, even though he said he was once a teenage victim of racial profiling. Rice said that when he was 17, he was pulled over while driving a Volvo and listening to hip-hop.
Still, Rice said he thinks a curfew could be effective.
Proponents also stress that although most teens hang out peacefully, sometimes things can go bad quickly.
On a recent Friday night, Sgt. Mark Miller was on patrol in downtown Silver Spring. By 11:45 p.m., the crowd had thinned enough for him to take a dinner break at a nearby police station, but he only got a few bites down.
One mile north, said the call on his radio, someone fired a gun. Minutes later, he pulled up to a parking lot teeming with teenagers and young adults.
Miller and his colleagues started piecing together what happened: A teenager threw a party and, as word spread through text messages, the crowd swelled to more than 50.
One uninvited guest took a Sony PlayStation III, tucked it in his bag and left. A host followed him into a parking lot, and the thief pulled a gun from his trunk. A shot was fired, but no one was struck. Still, dozens of teenagers continued to hang around within two blocks of the party. It was 12:30 a.m. Miller asked a handful their ages; 16, 17, 18, 19, they said. Miller has concerns about a curfew and worries it could eat up his patrol time. He also wanted the youngest people in the crowd to go home but had no way to force them. “This would be a nice time to have that law,” he said.