More than a year ago, the residents of a Prince William County subdivision began complaining of teen-agers hanging out near their homes -- shouting, playing music and, on one occasion, tossing a bottle through a den window.
"They don't make me nervous, they just aggravate me," said Judy McDonough, a 32-year-old mother of five. "But, a lot of people, including my next-door neighbor, won't come out of their homes at night."
In response, the Dumfries Town Council agreed to consider doing what a number of Virginia localities have done: enact a curfew that would require anyone under age 18 to be at home after 10 p.m. The town has held one spirited hearing on the issue and is scheduled to take it up again Oct. 1.
Debate over the proposal has split Dumfries and its 3,200 residents the same way that U.S. Rte. 1 divides the town: right down the middle.
Police Chief Harvey Anderson and a number of others, many teen-agers, don't think the curfew would work.
"They ain't going to put me in the house," said Paul Creswell, 16. "They got to catch me, first. The problem is all these old people trying to go to bed at 7 p.m."
"Why put something on the books that you can't enforce?" said Anderson. "There's too many loopholes, too many chances of being sued."
"I think it's really up to the parents to see where their kids are after 10 p.m.," said Liz Vaquera, 42, a mother of two. "I don't let mine run the street."
Some say that change doesn't come quickly to Dumfries, off I-95 about 40 miles south of Washington.
Although it claims to be Virginia's oldest town -- it was incorporated in 1749 by the General Assembly -- Dumfries remains a community without big-city pretentions. "We tell folks we're just a country law firm," said a secretary for state Del. Floyd C. Bagley (D-Prince William), a former Marine who settled in the town.
Most of the town's residents work at the nearby Quantico Marine base, and some estimate fully half of the town's business is base-related.
The complaints about the teen-agers have come mostly from the Williamstown subdivision, a tract of 360 town houses on the east side of Rte. 1, most of which sell for between $50,000 and $60,000, town officials say.
Residents there say what they describe as gangs of youths, sometimes as many as 15, hang out at the wooden subdivision entrance sign, the green telephone company equipment box nearby, or at the Hop In convenience store across Graham Park Road.
Jeff Milton, president of the Williamstown Homeowners Association and a police officer for the Library of Congress in Washington, has led the fight for the curfew.
Milton, whose only child is 4 months old, says he has never been bothered by the youths but says others find them scary.
"You really wonder what parent is going to let their 13- or 14-year-old kid out on a school night, anyway?" he said. "Why would they be letting them run around until 11:30 p.m.? It really makes you wonder."
"All I've heard is that they're just standing around," said Mayor Olney Brawner, who runs Big Barney's Car Wash. He said much of the controversy is overstated. "Oh, we did have one citizen who claimed some teen-agers beat him up on a certain night, but other than that and the pop bottle, I don't know of anything they've done."
It was enough for some homeowners who have marched several times to town hall to protest and spent one day collecting 100 petition signatures in front of the grocery store.
"They keep pushing us, and pushing us," said Town Council member Eleanor Gum. "They really need help, and if we don't do the curfew, we're going to have to do something."
Several residents suggested that Dumfries, which has six full-time police officers, should hire more police. But town taxes, they quickly say, are already too high. The town's current annual budget is $336,522 -- of which $192,212 is for police.
Others have called for better recreational facilities. Dumfries has a roller-skating rink and a basketball court. The town is developing a new four-acre park and should have two ball fields ready by next summer.
"We probably need a combination of things," said Marjorie Davis, the town's vice mayor, who said a curfew attempted in the early 1970s didn't work. "The kids need something to do, so maybe a community center. Maybe more police. I don't know."
"As a parent -- I have a 15-year-old stepdaughter -- I'd like to feel that in America, we're a free country," said Edwin C. King, the Prince William County supervisor who represents Dumfries. "On the other hand, I want our elderly and everyone else to feel free to walk around ."
"Unfair," said Jason Mangin, 17, a Williamstown resident. "Because, like every day in the summer already, a cop will tell you to get off the street and 'Don't hang out here.' They be hassling you."
While a number of Virginia communities have curfew laws, their enforcement appears to be somewhat uneven. Manassas has a 10 p.m. curfew for youths under age 18 but has never enforced it, says Police Capt. Christopher Tutko. Virginia Beach has a midnight deadline for youths under age 18, and police dispatcher Beverly Hassell says officers there do enforce the law.
Richmond youths under 17 supposedly are restricted between the hours of 12:01 and 5 a.m. "It keeps some of them in the house," said Detective Sgt. Philip Mangano.
According to the Dumfries proposal, youths under 18 would have to be in by 10 p.m., unless working, running an errand, going to a school or religious event, or performing "any other lawful activity of which a good account may be given." Violators could be given a maximum $300 fine, or up to 30 days in jail.
"It's a possibility that the council might just adopt a no-loitering law, instead," said Mayor Brawner.
"I'm hoping it will go through," said Milton. "I have to feel positive about it, because I feel like the town really wants it -- the citizens want it."