DISTRICT COUNCIL member Frank Smith has proposed two bills that he hopes will help curtail a rise in the number of incidents of teen-age violence and disorderly conduct in the city. The problem is real and his intentions are admirable, but the method he would use -- a curfew preventing minors from driving late at night or entering certain establishments after a certain hour -- is only about half right.
A random shooting incident at a dance in April, during which 11 bystanders were injured, stimulated much of the current outcry. But police statistics back up Mr. Smith's concerns about this and other cases of violence. Late-night disorderly behavior has become commonplace at and around many of the city's biggest teen-age haunts and has become the source of frequent complaints from people living nearby. At one local club, 103 arrests were made and 75 complaints answered in 117 days of operation.
Placing tighter restrictions on teen-age patronage of these places would seem to make sense. But the curfew on driving is probably useless and definitely unfair. Like similar broad curfews proposed by Mr. Smith in the past, it would give law-enforcement officers a great deal of discretion -- more than they should have. Determining which teen-agers are intent on mischief and which are driving home from a late job or a college library is a tricky business at any hour of the day or night (let alone determining whether the young person driving that darkened car is over or under the magic age of 18). Do you judge these drivers by their race, by the neighborhood they're in, by the make of car they're driving, by how loud they're playing the radio?
Besides having such obvious enforcement problems, the curfew simply doesn't address the real concern, which is illegal activities occurring at certain locations where large numbers of young people gather. That's why Mr. Smith's other proposal -- to regulate commercial establishments that draw crowds of teen-agers -- is worth considering.
Mr. Smith's bill would affect specifically "the licensing of theaters, moving pictures, skating rinks, dances, exhibitions, and other public places," although this definition should become more specific as the bill passes through committee. Such places would be forbidden to admit minors after 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends. The legislation still has some questions to be worked out, but it has the virtues of dealing with the problem at its source and of targeting the real offenders -- unlike a curfew, which would make a whole age group participating in otherwise legal activities subject to arrest.