- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

Enforcement of the District's juvenile curfew law began aggressively nine months ago, but statistics indicate D.C. police have virtually stopped enforcing the law.
More than 500 curfew violators were picked up in 1996, before the curfew law was challenged and upheld in court.
After four years of legal wrangling and vows to "vigorously enforce" the law, statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department's youth services division show curfew arrests dropped from 51 in September to an average of six per month, for a nine-month total of 108.
The law applies to those younger than 17.
"The law itself was intended to combat some of the youth violence we've been having," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.
Since September, 21 school-age children have been shot to death in the District, according to police statistics.
Police said seven were killed during curfew hours, but only four were younger than 17.
The trend toward leniency became painfully obvious this month when three youths ages 13, 15 and 18 were shot while leaving a graduation party in the 100 block of Varnum Street NW around 3 a.m. well beyond curfew.
The 18-year-old male was found in critical condition, while the 15-and 13-year-old males who were in violation of the city's curfew law suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.
The party, which lasted three hours past the midnight curfew, included many students younger than 17.
"It shows the problems when the curfew isn't conformed with," said Terrance W. Gainer, deputy chief of police under Police Chief Charles Ramsey.
Enforcement of the curfew, originally passed in 1995, was suspended when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged it in court. After an appeals court ruled that the law was constitutional last summer, the Police Department was free to pick up where it left off, detaining curfew violators by the hundreds.
However, strict enforcement isn't a top priority anymore. The city's new police brass have given officers wide discretion on whether to stop young people for breaking curfew.
"We've indicated to [officers] that this is a tool; use your good judgment and use it within your PSA [police service area]," Chief Gainer said.
"I find [the decline in enforcement] quite disappointing, and we urge the enforcement authorities to enforce the law," said Willy Lynch, chief of staff for council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.
"We've got too many things happening in our streets where young people are in places where they should not be," he said.
The curfew is in effect from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. Friday through Sunday nights.
In July and August, those weekend hours will be in effect all week long.
Curfew violators can be ordered to perform up to 25 hours of community service, and their parents or guardians face a fine up to $500, community service and mandatory parenting classes.
"What parent of a 13-year-old doesn't know they shouldn't be out on the street at 3 a.m.?" Chief Gainer asked.
The number of curfew violations is small compared with the population covered by the law. D.C. public schools have some 77,000 students, most of whom would fall under the constraints of the curfew law.
The low number of violations may be a result of better parenting and more young people staying inside because of the curfew, Chief Gainer said.
"The numbers … would indicate that everyone's complying with it or it's not being enforced," said Mr. Evans, who plans to look into the effectiveness of the youth curfew.
Kevin Morison, a police spokesman, said the department's statistics may not reflect the actual number of curfew violations, because not all are being reported.
Police reported only a few violations in the 2nd District, which encompasses much of Northwest, including Foggy Bottom, Georgetown and Friendship Heights.
Residents in these areas said curfew-breaking is not a problem, but some young people who live there said they have been out past curfew.
The lack of curfew enforcement may embolden some teen-agers.
"There were times when I told my son, 'You need to be home by the curfew,' and he said, 'Mom, they don't enforce that,' " said Delabian Rice-Thurston, director of Parents United of the D.C. Public Schools.
Eric Smith, 16, and Mark Leeper, 17, both from Northeast, said they hang out together past curfew but do not have problems.
"He never has problems because he's with me," Mark said. "I don't know anyone who has been stopped."
Denelle Smith, 17, from the Potomac Avenue area in Southeast, said she was picked up as a violator sometime after 2 a.m. last fall near MCI Center, taken to the police station and later released to her parents.
Police anticipate an increase in the number of young people out after hours now that the weather has improved and school is out, Chief Gainer said, but because the law is still young, it is not known what effect it will have on their summer plans.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the curfew is only part of the solution to young people loitering in the streets.
"A curfew is no substitute for providing constructive activities for our young people as alternatives to just hanging around on the streets," he said.
"That's why, as part of my budget, we are building a new playground and recreation centers and investing more than $15 million in after-school programs."
Mrs. Rice-Thurston said curfew enforcement is especially lax on Wisconsin Avenue "… where so many of the movies are and places where young people like to hang out late. It makes it seem unfair."
Margaret Beason, a Ward 8 resident, said she hasn't noticed any change in crime. "The kids that hang out in my block are over 18 and 20. The kids that are out there on the corner are 25 and above. The real teen-agers know not to be out."
Melvin Sims, a resident of Congress Heights, said police do not have time to pick up curfew violators.
"The kids are still running rampant as usual," he said.

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