Roy Exum: Mobile’s Daytime Curfew

Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

My stomach churned Tuesday when I learned there are some children in Chattanooga who still haven’t reported to public schools and that our administrators won’t know for a week or so how many students will be enrolled this fall. So here’s an idea – let’s look at Mobile, Ala., for a dazzling solution. The city’s “daytime” curfew just went back into effect on Monday.

The Mobile Police Department will apprehend anyone under the age of 17 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on days that schools are in session and, if the child or teenager doesn’t have an official “pass” from school, they are taken to the city’s Children’s Crisis Center where they are issued a ticket and must wait until a parent or guardian comes to pick them up. It doesn’t make any difference if you are black or white, male or female, tall or short.

Mobile also has a year-round nighttime curfew, the lone exception being New Year’s Eve. Anyone under the age of 18 has to be off the streets by 10 p.m. during the week and by midnight on the weekends. The police will take any violators to the Crisis Center where they are held until a parent or guardian comes to pick them up. Then they go before a judge to explain why they disobeyed the ordinance. And if a parent or guardian fails to come pick a juvenile in a timely manner, they can also explain their actions to the judge.

Cpl. Christopher Levy, a police department spokesman, says there is one very valid reason for both curfews – safety. “We know for a fact that while (children and teenagers) are in school, they are less likely to be the victim of a crime, or a suspect in a crime. School is the safest place for kids.”

The daytime curfew, which does not apply to home-schooled kids or students taking part in an official school function, went into effect for the first time on January 1, 2012, and it has not only been very effective but studied by towns and cities across the state.

The Mobile mayor’s office reported last week that, thus far in 2013, a total of 95 teenagers have been detained – 57 boys and 38 girls. Of those, 66 were picked up for violating the nighttime curfew and 29 for the daytime curfew. The way both curfew ordinances are written, police officers have “wide latitudes” in enforcing the curfews but every child in Mobile knows he or she stands the risk of being taken into custody if they disobey the rules.

In the event a student needs to leave school, they are given a pass by the school that has a time-stamp on it and is signed by a school administrator. It specifically states when the child left school and when the child is expected to return. And if a student is suspended, the daytime curfew remains in effect – the student must stay at home or out of sight.

According to a story on AL.com, the police department had to deal with several “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” situations where suspended students were caught driving back to school to pick up their friends but learned the hard way they were not allowed to be “out and about.”

Put me down for thinking it is a great idea, not just for Chattanooga but for every one of the city’s satellite towns and communities. I was taught “nothing good happens after midnight”  and the daytime curfew not only strikes a resounding blow against truancy but greatly impairs those who would “skip school” just for laughs. A nightly curfew would curtail late-night partying, too.

Exceptions? Sure there would be some but I believe the Hamilton County school system or our Juvenile Court could come up with some kind of special pass that couldn’t be easily counterfeited. Kids who get out of school early could have work permits and those who leave the school for any reason would have a pass from the office.

The police burden? I believe it would be far less than finding a teenager who has been shot. I have also spoken to several officers who are saddened when they find a 10-year-old shooting basketball at 2 o’clock in the morning. And – again – officers should and would have wide latitude in dealing with particular cases.

Private schools? The fact public schools and private schools have different calendars wouldn’t be a problem, any more than in-service days or spring break or holiday schedules. Any police officer would be reasonable about that. This isn’t about harassing teenagers – Mobile has proven it – and the benefit of a daytime curfew would far outweigh any minor inconvenience.

Anything we can possibly do to keep our young people safe should be studied and as one who believes it is unacceptable that one out of four kids does not graduate from high school, I believe we should try just about anything.

royexum@aol.com


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