Hour Town

Six months after its debut, the county's scheme to keep teens out of nighttime trouble gets mixed reviews

Info:Correction Date: 07/04/1996
Info:
Hour Town

Six months after its debut, the county's scheme to keep teens out of nighttime trouble gets mixed reviews

By Ray Martinez
The numbers were typical: The weekend of June 7, Miami Beach police charged ten youths with a misdemeanor for violating Dade County's curfew, drove them to the nearest station, and called their parents to retrieve them. Of the hundreds of kids police estimate were violating curfew (some of whom the police simply ordered to go home), those ten stood out because of their likely-suspect behavior: driving erratically, playing loud music, wearing gang clothes, or hanging out in parks, gas stations, or on street corners.

What was notable about that weekend was the shooting death of a nineteen-year-old man on Fourteenth Street off Washington Avenue. Police arrested a 21-year-old man who allegedly fired six shots at the victim in retaliation for an earlier fight. Three teenage girls standing on the sidewalk outside the Cameo Theatre were hit and critically injured in the shooting spree: a seventeen-year-old and two sixteen-year-olds. The time of the shooting: Saturday, 4:30 a.m.

The incident dramatized two facts about the six-month-old curfew, which applies to youths under age seventeen: Enforcement is necessarily selective and meager relative to the number of violators; and curfew-hour shootings involving youths have decreased A the one outside the Cameo was the first in Miami Beach this year (compared to a handful last year).

"There are thousands of kids out there, and we don't go after every one," says Capt. Charles Garbedian, who works the midnight-to-8:00 a.m. shift. "But you look at [juvenile arrests during curfew hours] a half-year ago or a year ago, and there's a big difference."

While it's too early to make definite correlations between the curfew and the rate of juvenile crime, and while no one believes the curfew will solve the problem of youth violence, Garbedian and other law enforcement officials see encouraging signs.

From January 1 through June 10, Miami Beach charged 175 youths solely for violating curfew; one was charged twice. Based on estimates from patrol officers and merchants who have traditionally complained about loitering teens, Chief Richard Barreto reports that up to two-thirds fewer youths are venturing into Miami Beach during curfew hours.

According to Metro-Dade Police Department statistics, the leading curfew violators in unincorporated Dade are sixteen-year-old white Hispanic males. As of May 15, Metro-Dade had charged 488 youths with violating curfew; 33 were repeat offenders, one of whom violated the curfew three times.

The City of Miami has handled enforcement differently, although no less effectively, says Chief Donald Warshaw. As of June 7, the city's cops had charged only nine youths with violating the curfew ordinance. "We routinely pick up kids and take them home as a warning, without recording a violation. I was under the impression the county was doing the same thing," says Warshaw. "Anyway, it's a discretionary thing. The lieutenants who manage the twelve neighborhoods in the city tell me they are seeing fewer young people in the streets late at night, and that's positive."

The U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that about 1000 communities now have curfews, including 146 of the nation's 200 largest cities. The Dade County Juvenile Curfew Ordinance was imposed January 1, 1996, after Metro-Dade commissioners proclaimed that juvenile crime and delinquency was a "mounting crisis ... a clear and present danger." Curfew hours are midnight to 6:00 a.m. on weekends, 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. Parents of repeat offenders can be fined up to $500.

The ordinance allows for thirteen exceptions. Those most commonly applied involve youths who are working or attending school or civic-sponsored events, or who are accompanied by a legal guardian or have a guardian's written permission to be in public during curfew. The ordinance also allows for the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and the right of assembly. Homeless and married people are exempted as well.

Police officials say the biggest obstacle to enforcement isn't the exceptions -- it's time. The ordinance requires police officers to take a youth charged with violating the curfew to the nearest police station and immediately call his legal guardian. If contact is not made within two hours, the officer must drive the youth home, where, in the absence of a parental figure, he must make a decision: leave the youth unsupervised or call the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) to take temporary custody.

"From the standpoint of resources, it's a problem," says Miami Beach's Chief Barreto. "If the juvenile lives in Fort Lauderdale, then the officer's going to be tied up for one or two hours baby-sitting him. So they're not going to grab the first kid they see on the street -- it's unrealistic. We wouldn't have any cops on the street."

Last year the ordinance's chief sponsor, Metro Commissioner James Burke, offered to set up curfew drop-off centers staffed by ministers and volunteers, but those have not materialized. "There's a liability issue with the centers," Burke explains, "but we're getting documents from [curfew centers] in New Orleans to see how they work it there."

Law enforcement officials stress that the curfew is a family issue that starts at home. "I supported the curfew from the beginning, and I see it as another tool that police can use to keep young people that are up to no good off the streets," says Chief Warshaw, adding that during the summer months he intends to step up enforcement. "Maybe the curfew has put the fear of God into parents if they know they'll have to fetch their young sons and daughters from the police department. That's the enforcement."

The ordinance will expire after eighteen months, on July 1, 1997, unless county commissioners vote to extend it. Burke predicts an extension -- and perhaps an expansion.

"I'm looking at eight or nine o'clock on weekdays, and keeping it midnight or so on weekends," says Burke. "I think that with the [pro-curfew] position President Clinton has taken and the success stories we're hearing, the curfew is a good tool if used with discretion. I believe it will be extended until we have a real drop in our juveniles being hurt."

Curfew opponents cite the fact that most violent crimes committed by youths occur in the daytime, before the curfew takes effect. Rather than a curfew, they say, a commitment should be made to build stronger families, better schools, and nurture community programs. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has contested the constitutionality of the Dade ordinance; the case is on appeal in the Florida Supreme Court.

Robyn Blumner, the Florida ACLU's executive director, argues that curfews presume criminal behavior and deprive youths of due process, and calls the appeal a "huge" priority. "Why don't we just shackle kids when they're born and only unhook them when they're in school?" she scoffs. "I think it's really abhorrent.

In last week's issue, an article titled "Hour Town" contained two errors. Owing to conflicting information provided by the Miami Beach Police Department, three of four victims of a June 8 shooting incident were inaccurately reported to have been standing outside the Cameo Theatre in Miami Beach. The incident actually took place near the intersection of Fourteenth Street and Washington Avenue, about a block south of the Cameo. The age of the suspected shooter was also incorrect. He will turn 21 in October. New Times regrets the errors.Info:Published:

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