Correction to This Article
A July 20 article incorrectly stated that the District's emergency curfew law applies to youths younger than 18. The law, like an earlier curfew law in the city, covers those younger than 17.

Council Approves Earlier Curfew

Johonna McCants speaks at a news conference held by the Justice 4 D.C. Youth Coalition to oppose some anti-crime measures that target youths.
Johonna McCants speaks at a news conference held by the Justice 4 D.C. Youth Coalition to oppose some anti-crime measures that target youths. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Seeking to combat a surge in violent crime, the D.C. Council approved an emergency bill that would impose a 10 p.m. curfew on youths younger than 18 years old, give police immediate access to some confidential juvenile records and install surveillance cameras in residential neighborhoods for the first time.

Youths will have to be off the streets by the tightened curfew for the next three months unless they are with a parent, on the way home from work, or attending a civic or church outing. Visiting teenagers from Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere will be subject to the same provision. The curfew is two hours earlier than the one in effect since 1999.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he hopes the initiative will curb a crime wave that has included 15 killings this month. The provisions will be in effect for 90 days after Williams signs the bill, although he would like the council to adopt all the measures permanently when the body convenes in the fall.

Police report a 13 percent increase in all robberies and an 82 percent rise in the number of juveniles arrested on robbery charges this year, compared with the same period last year. The recent increase in crime, which prompted a declaration of a crime emergency last week by Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, reflects a nationwide trend.

"The problems D.C. is experiencing now are pretty much national problems," said Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, a former New York police commissioner. "There's been a pretty significant uptick in crime."

Bratton pointed to Philadelphia, where residents voted in May to install neighborhood surveillance cameras for police. In Boston, where the homicide rate hit a 10-year-high last year, Mayor Thomas M. Menino suggested that vehicles entering Massachusetts be randomly searched.

Approval of the emergency bill followed about seven hours of debate. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, one of the front-runners in the Sept. 12 primary election for mayor, broke with the council majority and voted against the bill. Council members Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who is running for council chairman, joined him on a separate vote, opposing the declaration of an emergency, before passage of the crime bill. But Fenty was the only member to oppose the specific initiatives after an affirmative voice vote.

"I think people know that these are not ways to solve crime. At best, we're tinkering around the edges. At worst, we are putting forth that we are doing something about a crime emergency when everyone in this room knows that we are not," said Fenty (D-Ward 4), applauded by a large crowd of teenagers, youth advocates and members of the local American Civil Liberties Union.

Fenty's stance contrasted with the position of D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), the other front-runner in the mayoral primary.

Cropp said she favored the mayor's crime package because, she said, residents are crying out for more police protection. "They want to see more officers in their neighborhoods," she said. "Make no mistake about it, we're fighting back."

Other cities across the country are also using curfews and cameras.

Bratton said curfews are an "appropriate tool" that have been used in Los Angeles from time to time.


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