By Nikita Stewart and Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 20, 2006; A01
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.
"It does work, because it does keep a lot of kids indoors," Bratton said. "It reduces the number of players you have to keep track of, but it's difficult to enforce."
In the District, police officers have taken about 2,000 juveniles off the street for curfew violations this year, said Lillian Overton, commander of the police department's youth division.
When the youths are picked up, they are taken to one of two curfew centers, which have rows of chairs as in a doctor's waiting room.
Parents are called by police, and if they do not pick up their children by 6 a.m., the youths are taken to the D.C. government's Child and Family Services Agency. Cases can be referred to the attorney general's office, which decides whether to open a neglect investigation. Teenagers and ACLU members, wearing T-shirts that read, "Real Crimefighting. Not Abuse of Power," packed the council chambers at the John A. Wilson Building.
"It's not right. Young people need more time than that [10 p.m.]," said Tawanda Davis, 17, a member of Facilitating Leadership in Youth, a group for teenagers in Southeast. "We've got school. We've got after-school activities. At night, that's the only time we have," she said.
Teenagers also objected to the mandatory sharing of juvenile records with police, saying that it is police harassment.
Under the bill, family court is required to report the release of juveniles with multiple and violent offenses and their location within 48 hours to the police. Family court now provides records on a case-by-case basis when requested by police.
Ramsey said he wants the information because he thinks it will help detectives solve cases and reduce crime. He wants information on juveniles who have committed three or more violent crimes.
"If they've been arrested seven, eight times for armed robbery, why wouldn't we take a look to see if they're responsible?" Ramsey said.
Under the emergency crime bill, judges in all D.C. courts also have discretion to deny bail and detain adults and juveniles charged with violent robbery.
And starting this week, the city will begin installing surveillance cameras in residential areas for the first time. The cameras will be recording 24 hours a day, but police will not monitor them all the time. Other cities that have used them have found them to be effective.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based group that opposes surveillance cameras, disputes the success rate, saying street lighting and more officers on the street are more effective.
The council voted unanimously to provide $8 million to pay overtime to put 300 more officers on the streets for the next six weeks. That measure did not need council approval, but the mayor asked for a vote of the "sense of the council."