By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The D.C. Council will consider emergency legislation today that would enforce an earlier curfew for youths 17 and younger in the District, shifting it from midnight to 10 p.m. during the summer in an effort to curb crime.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) drafted the bill this week and said the move was in response to information that since early May, police could trace a spike in crime in his ward to juveniles.
"The curfew is not just to reduce violent crime but to protect our youth," Wells said. "We have a responsibility and the authority to keep youth safe."
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has signed onto the legislation, said he decided to take action because Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) had not planned to impose an earlier curfew this summer.
"I believe that a 10 p.m. curfew contributes positively to public safety," Graham said. "It keeps young people out of mischief and the hazards of the streets if they go in at 10 p.m."
Last year, the city set a 10 p.m. emergency curfew in July that expired in October, when the hours returned to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday. During July and August, the curfew is midnight daily. The current law affects juveniles younger than 16. The new law would include 17-year-olds. Under the proposal, the 10 p.m. curfew would be in effect Monday through Thursday; an 11 p.m. curfew would apply Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Under District law, teenagers can be out later than the curfew if they are on errands at the direction of a parent or guardian without any detours or stops. There are also exceptions for those who are on their way home from work or on an outing as part of a civic or church group.
Wells needs approval from nine of the 13 council members to pass the emergency 90-day legislation, which would take effect immediately. He said he is confident the bill will pass.
But some juvenile crime advocates oppose the measure, saying that the curfew is ineffective and unnecessarily targets youths. Instead, they say, the city should provide more recreational programs.
Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, said that national and local statistics show that curfews are not the solution to youth crime.
"In no way, shape and form are juveniles driving up crime in D.C. because they make up a small proportion of people committing crime in D.C.," Ziedenberg said. "Every arrest survey I'm made aware of shows that young people generally make up less than 20 percent of the violent arrests. It's another layer of laws in D.C. that young people can get caught up in."
This summer, the city police department has taken steps to provide a Summer of Safety program. For information on the free or low-cost supervised activities, call 202-462-6733.