The Kansas City Public Library

After Dark: Kansas City's New Youth Curfew

Curfews for young people weren’t invented yesterday. Omaha, Nebraska enacted the first youth curfew in 1880 and ever since most major cities have followed suit (City Mayors). Currently 78 out of 92 cities with a population over 180,000 have implemented youth curfews. Many of them currently require persons under 18 years old to be inside from 11pm to 6am during the week and midnight to 6am on weekends (US Mayors). This is the normal curfew held by Kansas City, which has been in place for the last 20 years. However, due to a hot summer of increased youth crime activity--including a major event on the Plaza last month in which 3 young persons engaged in a fight using firearms within earshot of Kansas City Mayor, Sly James—the curfew is taking on new times for summer months. Other cities, like Philadelphia, have also experienced a surge of disruptive youth behavior such as the violent flash mob incident from late July. They too have tightened their belts and hitched up the britches of their curfew, forbidding youths to be present in certain high-activity districts after 9pm.

Just a few weeks ago, Kansas City followed in a similar manner, modifying the curfew for places of heavy youth congregation like the Plaza, Westport, Downtown, 18th & Vine, and Zona Rosa. The new summer curfew—from Memorial Day Weekend through the last weekend of September—will not allow persons under 18 to be present in these areas after 9pm until 6am the next day. The city-wide curfew forbids people 15 and under to be out from 10pm to 6am while 16 and 17 year olds get an extra hour of fun, as they must be in by 11 pm. Punishment is a $500 ticket is issued to the parent or legal guardian of the curfew violator.

While many believe that the new restrictions will help prevent future incidents of juvenile crime in addition to keeping kids from being victims of crime, the curfew is not without its critics. Youth rights organizations are eager to pinpoint the ineffectiveness of curfews. It is true that by keeping kids inside at certain hours they may be less likely to commit crimes in general. However, peak hours for juvenile crime are not after 9pm, but from 2pm to 8pm, and crime is generally much higher during the school year. Yet according to the same chart, crime is slightly more likely to occur in the evenings when youth are out of school (United States Department of Justice). To help combat this issue of daytime crime and truancy Los Angeles and Birmingham both have daytime curfews in effect for school days where children may not be in public without parent or guardian accompaniment during certain hours. However, the curfew is only active during hours for Birmingham Public Schools, which does not cover that peak time (City of Birmingham).

Some suggest that investing in afterschool programs like athletics and other activities for kids will help prevent the afterschool crime spike, and would be the best way to combat the problem of youth violence. Not only would afterschool programs keep kids busy, but it would also cut down the notion that youth cannot be trusted, which some would argue the current message is.

Other arguments against the new curfew state that it hinders and violates first amendment rights, but local law makers were very cautious to include exceptions for youths who are at events sanctioned by the city allowing unaccompanied minors, minors accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, youths running emergency errands for a parent or legal guardian, minors returning from a school activity (entertainment, recreation, athletic events, a dance), when minor is returning home from lawful employment that requires him or her to be out after curfew, or when a minor is traveling to or from an activity involving first amendment rights.

There also exists the question of police resources for curfew enforcement. Is the curfew just another victimless crime that police must manage when they could be attending to more serious violent crimes? Trying to get a violator back to parental custody can take up to an hour or more of a patrolman’s night. However, local officials are considering following in Baltimore’s footsteps by establishing a curfew center where social workers and juvenile court workers locate a parent or guardian to return the youth to. Curfew centers also work as places to collect official data on youth activity and getting to the root of teen deviancy issues in the city. Not only would such a place cut down the role of a police officer as a babysitter, but it would also reduce curfew violations and youth crime as it has done successfully so in Baltimore, San Jose and Minneapolis (KC Star). So far, Kansas City has set up make-shift curfew centers at Brush Creek Community Center and the main lobby of the North Patrol headquarters.

Though the issue of the tightened curfew has ruffled more than a few feathers over the years, the debate is dying down as city officials charge forward enforcing the curfew for the rest of summer.

Where do you stand on the issue? Offer your thoughts in the comments below.

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