Curfews don’t reduce crime, but cities still enforce them

sPhiladelphia has imposed curfews on children and teens since the 1950s, but in the face of a second consecutive year of record murders and rising violent crime, the city is doubling down on its efforts to keep minors off the streets at night.

A new ordinance expanded the city’s 10 p.m. curfew to include children aged 16 to 17 (previously, they could have been outside until midnight), and police also stepped up enforcement of curfew ordinances, community activists and residents said. FOR TIME – Bringing more children and issuing more fines to parents.

For 14-year-old Brian Lemon in North Philly, that means he’s been arrested six times for curfew violations this year. One night, he said, he was stopped by police less than 30 seconds after a 10 p.m. curfew, as he was returning home from a friend’s house. “They caught me like I killed someone, they also saw me with a gun or something,” he says.

Most of the time, officers brought him home, but the police twice issued a $500 fine to his mother for letting her son go out late. He says the fines were particularly hard to bear. “Most people probably don’t have that much money for your kids just to be outside. That’s enough money to buy food in the fridge and clothes on our backs,” says Brian.

Across the country, more local leaders and police are turning to teen curfews in an effort to quell violent crime, which has escalated across the country since 2020. This summer, Chicago expanded youth curfew laws and increased law enforcement. Other major cities, including Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta also have youth curfews in place.

Read more: American crime is still significantly higher than it was before the pandemic

In September, officials in Prince George’s County, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., began imposing a 10 p.m. curfew for anyone under 17 on weekdays, and midnight on weekends. The announcement came in response to the May Day weekend violence in which four people were killed in a shooting, including a 15-year-old girl.

“At this point, these kids not only need a hug, they need to be held accountable,” County Executive Angela Sobrook said at a news conference September 5. “I know it is not a common thing to say, but it is a fair question: Where are their parents? Where are the aunts and where are the uncles and other family members responsible for them?”

Although bringing children home and off the streets at night may seem like a logical idea, researchers say there is no evidence that curfews reduce crime. Community leaders fear that increased police contact with teens from disadvantaged communities, especially black teens, could lead to more arrests — and more children locked up in the criminal justice system for petty infractions.

“There are very few studies that have been done on juvenile curfews, and unfortunately the general conclusion is that they have no real effect,” says Dave Myers, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven. “They tend to be popular on the surface. They look good, they look good, they are easy to carry out but in terms of their impact on crime, they are not there.”

Is curfew effective to stop crime?

Crime numbers before and after Philadelphia’s new curfew rules confirm this. In July 2022, when the updated curfew was in effect, most violent crime did not decrease compared to the same month the previous year, and some crimes increased significantly. Thefts with a gun increased by 72%, other types of thefts increased by 40%, and car thefts by 29%.

Brian Lemon says crime has always been a problem in his neighborhood, but says that this year he and others in the community have noticed a dramatic uptick in violence — especially from events.

“They’re a bunch of little kids, like 12-year-olds,” he says. “It’s amazing because I see so many armed robberies and [people] Taking cars with guns. Before they used to just jump in the car and no one was hurt, but now people want to kill someone and take over the car.”

But research casts doubt on the effectiveness of the juvenile curfew. A 2015 study by professors at the University of Virginia and Purdue University looked at the impact of youth curfews on gun violence in Washington, D.C. Their analysis found that the impact on public safety was “fuzzy,” and even suggested that curfews could increase levels of violence.

“We found that, contrary to its goal of improving public safety, juvenile curfews in the capital increase the number of shootings by 69%. [during curfew hours]study says. A 2016 study published by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit criminal justice research group, found that these types of curfews do not reduce crime or victimization.

Studies also show that juvenile crime tends to occur during the day. It usually peaks after school hours, and drops dramatically at night.

So why do cities still resort to this tactic? “No one really would argue that it’s okay for kids to be out on the streets after 10 p.m.,” says Myers of the University of New Haven. “The problem is that this doesn’t translate into something like it would have an impact on gun violence.”

Concerns about police exaggeration

Paul Elam is chief strategy officer at the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI), a nonprofit organization that works on issues including juvenile crime and community violence. He says the curfews are targeting a wide cross-section of the population – in an effort to stop a group of problem teens, who would likely ignore the curfew anyway. “For example, if we are in a community of 100,000 people, it is estimated that there are only 30 to 40 who carry weapons and commit crimes,” Elam says. “In general deterrence theory, curfews just don’t make sense. There is no data or theory to really support this approach.”

In Philadelphia, curfew rules faced opposition from some community groups. “The reason so many of us are against curfews is because certain communities are overly monitored without having any real impact on crime,” said James I, who runs a youth organization in Philadelphia called Yeah Philly that provides services to the city’s teens who are exposed to poverty. and violence. “The police have better things to do than worry about some young men walking to and from the store.”

Ay says the updates to the curfew implementation did not include enough participation from community members, which is emblematic of the dynamic between poor minority communities and law enforcement.

Research indicates that when black teens are in contact with the police, even for minor infractions such as curfew violations, it can have harmful effects — including over-protection later in life. A study from Johns Hopkins University was published in 2021 in Gamma Pediatrics found that exposure to police is associated with many adverse health outcomes for black children and adolescents, including mental health problems.

“Black youth in the United States experience disproportionate contact with the police even when accountable for criminal or deviant behavior, which some experts say is fueled by racism and discrimination,” the study says. “Evidence shows that police exposure is associated with adverse health outcomes for black youth.”

Instead of police officers arresting and rounding up all children they find on the street after a curfew, experts and community members are debating for more direct engagement with the community through law enforcement, as well as more proactive investigations to stop violent crime. This is separate from addressing the social and economic factors that play a role in crime and armed violence.

For children and teens, participation in community programs or after-school activities has been shown to reduce the likelihood of criminal behavior, experts say.

For now, Brian, a 14-year-old in North Philly, says the police crackdown on Philadelphia’s curfew is making him and his friends feel targeted. “I feel as if our voices are not being heard, and if they are being heard, people don’t really care,” he says. “It makes black kids feel it’s not worth talking about our experiences.”

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write to Josiah Bates at [email protected]

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