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The merits of a youth curfew for Montgomery County

By Editorial,

TO SAY THAT a proposal to establish a youth curfew in Montgomery County has touched a nerve in this suburban community is an understatement. Teens predictably aren’t keen on the idea; neither are some parents who see it as an infringement on their rights to set the rules for their children. And some residents think it’s an affront to Montgomery’s good name. But there is a certain logic to the notion that children really shouldn’t be on the streets unsupervised at all hours of the night.

The County Council is set to hold a public hearing July 26 on legislation proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) that would impose a curfew — midnight on Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. on other nights — on youth under 18. The measure comes at the behest of county police, who say that youth curfews in the District and Prince George’s County have made Montgomery, notably but not exclusively downtown Silver Spring, an attractive area for troublesome teens to congregate. They cited an incident over the Fourth of July weekend in which dozens of young people, including suspected gang members, gathered in Silver Spring. There were several fights, and a teenage girl was hurt. Crime is down in Montgomery, as in most of the country, but police say a curfew would be a tool to deal with troublesome young people.

Opponents of the curfew — a Facebook page (“Stand up to the MoCo Youth Curfew”) has sprung up and, at last count, had signed up more than 4,000 people — say Montgomery’s young people shouldn’t have to pay the price for the misdeeds of a few, some of whom don’t even live in the county. “Our kids are good,” goes this refrain. That can be heard as a slightly distasteful expression of superiority or a heartwarming expression of confidence, but either way we don’t think it’s a very substantive argument. The legislation is crafted to exempt youth who have jobs or supervised activities. The fears of teens not being able to go to early-morning swim practices or the occasional midnight movie are overblown. Violations would occur only if a teen refused the order of a police officer to leave a scene and go home.

Police in jurisdictions with curfews acknowledge that the restrictions are not a cure-all but say they can help identify youth who are in trouble as well as those who make trouble. Mr. Leggett told us the legislation may need some tweaking and that he’s open to working with the council. Clearly, police will have to be properly trained so as not to harass those youth they don’t like the look of. But a law that can help parents safeguard their children is worth enacting.

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