CONTRARY TO THE hyperbole that has marked Montgomery County’s debate about setting a youth curfew, the proposal is neither a draconian infringement of teen rights nor a miraculous cure-all to juvenile crime. It is merely a common-sense approach that police believe would be a useful tool in protecting public safety. It is far less problematic than the anti-loitering legislation that has been suggested as an alternative. If approved, it would help safeguard youths.
The County Council has yet to act on legislation proposed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) that would impose a curfew — midnight to 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on other nights — on youths under 18. Mr. Leggett advanced the idea in July, on the heels of a gang incident in Silver Spring that underscored the growing attraction of Montgomery, particularly its urban downtown, as a late-night gathering spot for troublesome youths. The adjoining jurisdictions of the District and Prince George’s County have curfews.
Opposition to the curfew has been fierce, with County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) leading the way as head of the public safety committee. Mr. Andrews is a thoughtful lawmaker who does his homework; he sees the curfew proposal as an overreaction to what he calls an isolated incident in Silver Spring that he says has been rightly addressed with an increased police presence. But his argument that the curfew is not needed is undercut by his ill-advised proposal to enact an anti-loitering law that essentially would make a crime of someone acting — solely in the eyes of police — suspiciously. It’s a recipe for selective enforcement that, as County Attorney Marc Hansen and others predict, would be ruled unconstitutional.
Mr. Leggett’s curfew proposal is not onerous. It restricts young people from gathering and remaining in public places during the affected hours. Youths who are with a parent or guardian, are attending a school or a religious activity, are returning from work, are on their own property or are on their way home from a movie would not be in violation. Even those who are in violation are not likely to be arrested, only instructed to go home — which, quite frankly, is where someone under the age of 18 should be at 11 p.m. on a school night.