City Council's Committee on Public Safety gave preliminary approval this afternoon to a stricter curfew bill that would limit hours and increase fines for parents, despite testimony from the state ACLU chapter, which called the legislation unconstitutional.
"It is more restrictive than any curfew that we have seen litigated, and more restrictive than many such ordinances that have been struck down across the country," said Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU. "If it is passed, it will invite litigation."
She said that the ordinance would divert limited police resources by causing officers to focus on peoples' ages, rather than seeking out criminal behavior. As far as police's ability to use discretion when allowing teens who are on errands or on their way home to go free, Roper said that discretion can also be used to not believe teens' excuses or to target certain populations.
"Who gets stopped has clearly been demonstrated by statistics," she said. "The police of this city do not have the best record of even-handed enforcement of the law."
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, who testified in support of the bill, said that the effects of the current curfew could already be seen on teen behavior and that the stricter ordinance would act as a deterrent. "We've made 10,205 curfew stops, of which 209 were actually given citations. The rest were just told to go home."
"It's not unusual for Council to pass legislation that ends up in court," said Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced the bill on behalf of the Nutter administration. "We're in the business to put in place laws to make things better."
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The bill was amended to give parents 30 days to respond to fines instead of 10, and also included a sunset provision that the legislation would expire Dec. 15, 2013, giving Council a chance to change it after comprehensive research is conducted on its efficacy.
"Data and research drives policies and legislation," Reynolds Brown said, noting that input from fellow councilmembers led her to support the amendments and that she would be open to revisiting the bill if research reveals that it is not helpful.
The bill will roll back curfew hours to 8 p.m. for children 13 and younger, 9 p.m. for those aged 14 and 15 and 10 p.m. for 16- and 17-year-olds, extending an hour later during the summer. It would also increase parent fines from $25 to $75 and initiative Department of Human Services investigations against parents who don't pick up their children within a reasonable time.