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Prince George’s curfew aimed at curbing violence draws fans and skeptics

Prince George's County Police Chief Malik Aziz and Prince George's County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks has had enough.

After two years of rising violence and an August that became the county’s deadliest month in four decades, the county executive called a news conference on Labor Day to announce a curfew for children 16 and younger.

The curfew — which has existed in Prince George’s since 1995 but has not been enforced in decades — is scheduled to begin Friday at 11:59 p.m. and last for at least 30 days. Children are not to be in the street or in public areas from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from midnight to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“I cannot stand by and continue to watch children who are shot and killed, who are not only committing crimes but harming others, and do nothing about it,” said Alsobrooks (D).

But reception of the curfew enforcement has been mixed from those most directly affected by the violence, including parents, youth advocates and the police officers now tasked with carrying out the county executive’s order. Those in favor of the curfew see it as a bold act of leadership at a critical time. Those who are skeptical say the curfew is not the right answer to address systemic issues driving violence.

“I appreciate that government is acknowledging that there’s a problem, but it goes far beyond a curfew, and far beyond a parent,” said Tameiko Prentice, whose 19-year-old son, Myles “Buddy” Prentice, was fatally shot Aug. 19.

She took issue with Alsobrooks asking “Where are their parents?” during the Monday news conference, saying she is worried the new curfew policy places blame on those like her who are doing their best to keep their children safe.

Her son was a Bowie High School graduate who was diagnosed with ADHD and struggled with depression, she said. He used marijuana and other drugs in high school, she said, and had run-ins with law enforcement. She and her husband tried “everything under the sun” to help get him on track, she said — including therapy, military school and residential treatment in Utah. Before he was killed, his parents were hopeful about their son’s future. He was entering his second year at Shaw University in North Carolina, where he was studying business.

“I’ve been a parent of three children. Trying to tell a 16-, 17-year-old to stay in the house, that’s not going to always work. What do you do?” Tameiko Prentice said. “You lock the doors; they can unlock the doors. They have cars; they have friends who have cars. They can just leave the house if they want to.”

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Jeanette Brandon, founder of Together We Can, an organization “created to bring people together” in Prince George’s County, said the curfew was a needed act of leadership from Alsobrooks after many community members felt as though their concerns about growing gun violence were going unheard.

“If we don’t start from somewhere, we’re going to lose altogether,” Brandon said. “You’re allowing the people to see that you’re at least doing something.”

Critics cited studies that show curfews are ineffective and said they fear the county’s policy unfairly targets children without adequate data showing that juveniles are the main drivers of the recent uptick in violent crime.

The county has recorded 80 homicides so far this year as of Monday, including 24 in August alone, compared with 84 killings through the same period a year earlier.

Alsobrooks and the county’s police chief, Malik Aziz, cited a number of crime statistics in their news conference Monday, including that 438 juveniles have been arrested in Prince George’s so far this year — a significant jump from the 207 juvenile arrests through the same period last year. Many of those statistics, however, did not draw clear connections to the time of day that crimes are being committed, who is committing them at those times and how the enforcement of a curfew might prevent the crimes from happening.

In August, for example, 52 of the 117 carjackings in Prince George’s occurred between midnight and 8 a.m. — a rough parallel to the curfew time window. But that data, released by the department, does not account for who committed the carjackings, because arrests have not been made in all the cases.

It remains unclear how the police department plans to enforce the curfew, including whether night patrols will increase and how officers will be instructed to interact with those who they believe, based on their appearance, are too young to be out.

“The PGPD is actively working on our operational plan for enforcing this existing county code for the 30-day initiative," the police department said in a statement. “The plan will be finalized by week’s end. Our officers are trained in non-biased policing and we are committed to providing a professional police service at all times. Our goal will be to gain voluntary compliance with the assistance of parents and youth.”

Officials on Monday pointed to the enforcement language in the county’s code on juvenile curfews, which was written in 1995 and enforced for a number of years after a period of high homicide rates in the county. But even decades ago, the curfew law was criticized for disproportionately targeting Black children in the county and harming community relations with the police.

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An Urban Institute study found the policy had little effect on protecting children from violent crime. The county police chief at the time said it did, however, help reduce the number of juveniles arrested in connection with violent crimes.

After the curfew announcement, the Prince George’s police union president, Angelo Consoli, said he was frustrated the organization hadn’t been consulted on the curfew officers will now be tasked with enforcing. The union, Consoli said, is concerned that officers are being forced to carry out a civil policy that could easily lead to accusations of racial profiling or over-policing because of the inherent challenges that come with enforcing a curfew.

“No one has told us anything about how they are going to get this done or what they are going to expect from us,” Consoli said.

Jawanna Hardy, director of Alsobrooks’s Hope in Action program and founder of Guns Down Friday, a youth anti-violence organization, said she remembers growing up under the curfew installed by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry when she was 15. It helped children understand that they needed to be home at a certain time, Hardy said, for their own good.

“We have to do something. Doing nothing, we see, isn’t working,” said Hardy, a violence interrupter. “I love this 30-day initiative, just to try to figure out what we can do to stop people like me from going to funerals every week.”

Prince Hamn, founder of the organization Making a Difference, is also a part of the Hope in Action initiative. His organization has recently tried to address students bringing guns to school through a “safe passage” program, talking with high-schoolers “just to show them that the community still cares and has love for them.”

While the curfew represents an effort from the county to create a systemic response, Hamn said he is concerned it could lead to more interactions with police and racial profiling. The consequences of violating the county curfew, which can include the government taking a child away from their family and releasing them to the social services department, could cause other harmful effects on the children and families, he said.

When it comes to enforcing the curfew and ensuring its effectiveness, it is going to take balance and collaboration among community organizations, police and county leaders, he said.

“At the end goal, we’re trying to get them to safety,” Hamn said of the county’s children, “so they can be here tomorrow.”

This story has been updated with comment from police on how they intend to enforce the curfew.