Last Friday, Baltimore instituted a new curfew for the city’s youth. The ordinance, which instills one of the strictest curfews in the country, requires unaccompanied juveniles under 14 to be indoors by 9 p.m. on weekdays and 15-16-year-olds to be in by 10 p.m. on weekdays or by 11 p.m. on weekends and school holidays. Offenders are taken to Youth Connection Centers by patrol officers, interviewed, and held until a guardian is able to pick them up or Child Protective Services steps in for unresponsive parents. Parents can be fined up to $500 or made to participate in a parenting class for their children’s violation.
The new curfew was met with much controversy. Parents resent the burden the curfew places on the many working class families in Baltimore who might rely on older children to go to the grocery store to pick up last minute necessities. Minors who participate in legitimate afterschool activities or jobs are now restricted to limited schedules.
The ACLU repeatedly spoke out against the new ordinance stating that it “essentially criminalizes people just for being outside.” The organization has understandably expressed concern that the enforcement of the curfew will disproportionately affect black youths and can be too easily used to justify unreasonable searches and seizures. Even police unions have teamed up against the stricter curfew. Police are unsure of how to enforce this new policy in a way that doesn’t strain their relationship with the community, fear that proper enforcement will drain departments of their resources and will distract officers from attending to more serious crimes.
With such overt resistance from the public and from outside groups, why has the city chosen to go forward with such a strict and unnecessary policy? The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Brandon Scott, presents the paternalistic argument, “If [children] are out there that late by themselves, that’s an indicator that they and their families need services.” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake claims that children “are more likely to become perpetrators or victims of violent crimes” without this type of curfew.
In reality, multiple studies show that curfews are not the least bit effective. Several longitudinal studies based on police citations and crime rates all conclude that curfews do not reduce crime or crime victimization. Not only have curfews been deemed ineffective and wasteful, but some curfew ordinances have even been ruled unconstitutional.
The case against curfews is well established and highly publicized; it’s just that city officials aren’t genuinely concerned about the city’s youth crime rate. The city’s intentions behind the new ordinance go far beyond the saccharine statements of its spokesmen.
With a continually declining population and increasing budget deficit, Baltimore officials have promised to bring in 10,000 new families into the city by 2020 to increase the city’s middle class. So far, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has sought to achieve this goal by making large investments in Baltimore’s tourism industry and by trying to clean up Baltimore’s public safety image.
A stricter curfew policy would only serve to hide the Baltimore’s working class youth from the high rollers at the city’s brand new Horsehoe Casino or the guests at the city-owned Hyatt Hotel. It is not an effort to actually curb violent crimes or protect young people.