Montgomery County kills proposal for youth curfew

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The Montgomery County Council voted Tuesday to effectively kill a proposal for a youth curfew, with members saying they needed more time before voting on the emotionally charged issue, which split the community.

The council voted 6-3 to postpone indefinitely discussion on the legislation, proposed in July by County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett after several late-night incidents involving teens, including a stabbing during a 70-person melee in Silver Spring.

Council President Roger Berliner acknowledged that a “strong majority” of residents oppose the curfew but said it has drawn such passionate responses from both sides that the council should take more time to debate the issue. It could come up again at an undetermined date next year.

“I don’t think this is a matter that should be [passed or rejected] in 5-4 votes,” said Mr. Berliner, a Democrat. “I think we need to be in much more consensus as a community.”

The proposed curfew would require people younger than 18 to be off county streets by 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends.

Mr. Leggett, a Democrat, harshly criticized the council, saying members had had more than enough time and their refusal to vote was a “failure in leadership.”

“It has been discussed exhaustively,” he said. “We don’t need more talk. We need action.”

Opponents say such a curfew would unfairly restrict law-abiding minors and not prevent most youth crimes. Supporters argued it would protect children and adults from becoming victims of late-night incidents.

The debate has intensified recently as a result of incidents in August and November in which teens and young people entered a convenience store en masse and stole freely because they so outnumbered the clerks.

The theft in August occurred at a Germantown store in early-morning hours after a curfew would have gone into effect. The second one happened in Silver Spring about 40 minutes before teens would have been ordered off the streets.

Curfew opponents insist the thefts were isolated incidents and that officials, including Mr. Leggett, are overreacting in an attempt to stop a nonexistent problem.

The council’s three-member Public Safety Committee voted last week to recommend that the full council reject the curfew on grounds that it was unnecessary and unfairly restrictive to children.

Committee and council member Phil Andrews said the county would be better served by increasing the nighttime police presence or having more after-school programs to keep teens out of trouble during daytime hours.

“The level of crime in Montgomery County doesn’t justify a youth curfew,” said Mr. Andrews, a Democrat. “There have been trends downward — not just in adult crime, but in youth crime as well.”

Council member Nancy Floreen disagreed, saying that a curfew would take some pressure off police officers, assist parents and protect children. She compared the proposal to an existing state law that bars minors from driving vehicles after midnight without an adult.

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