BY GREG MORTON AND LISA WӦLFL
Prince George’s County’s youth curfew, announced in a Labor Day press conference by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, was a response to the 17 homicides that occurred in the county during August, a record number despite years of falling crime rates.
Proponents of the curfew say that it puts the onus on parents to play a larger role in combating juvenile crime, introducing fines of up to $250 for parents of teens who repeatedly violate the curfew.
The curfew, which was meant to last at least 30 days, mandates that children under 17 stay out of public places between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays, and 11:59 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekends, with several exceptions, such as going to or from work, school or church.
“I know this isn’t a popular thing to say, but the truth of the matter is, it’s a fair question: Where are their parents? Where are their aunties, where are the uncles, and other family members who are responsible?” said Alsobrooks in announcing the policy.
However, after four weeks, the curfew’s effectiveness is in question, as police departments saw almost no violations.
The Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) only encountered three teenagers violating the curfew in the first four weeks of enforcement, according to Alsobrooks, who has been posting updates on the curfew on Twitter since it was announced.
Municipal police departments are also tasked with enforcing the curfew. Violations are rare or nonexistent in some of them.
In Hyattsville, the local police didn’t see a single violation of the curfew, said police department spokesperson Adrienne Augustus. Police Chief Jarod Towers clarified the department’s approach in a statement on Facebook: “Our officers will never be permitted to stop someone for the sole purpose of verifying their age in response to the county executive’s announcement.”
In Laurel, where a separate youth curfew ordinance is already on the books, police have noticed no significant changes in juvenile crime or crime more broadly. They did not cite a single teen for a violation in the first weeks of the curfew, according to Laurel Deputy Police Chief Mark Plazinski.
“The general way we put it to our officers is we didn’t want to change the way we do business,” said Plazinski, when asked about the policy in an interview. “We don’t want to be out there just looking for juveniles after 10 p.m. We’re still driven by where crime is occurring,” he added.
In Riverdale Park, there has been only a single incident in the first two weeks of the curfew, during which police took a minor home and issued a warning to his parents, according to Rosa Guixens, the acting chief of police.
Other municipalities, including Bowie, are unable to enforce the curfew because their local laws or city charters contain rules against enforcing county ordinances. Still, the curfew presents challenges for police departments trying to minimize the number of negative interactions between officers and citizens.
“The conversation recently has been about limiting potential for conflict, especially with juveniles in communities of color,” said Bowie Police Chief John Nesky during a phone interview.
This concern echoes the concerns of activists who worry about the policy’s potential negative impacts.
“Unnecessary police interactions and exposure to the Department of Social Services harms Black and brown children,” said the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland in a statement following the policy’s announcement.
Other experts on the subject question whether the policy can be effective in accomplishing its goals. Jillian Carr, an assistant professor at Purdue University, studied the youth curfew in Washington, D.C., using the variation in starting hours to identify the policy’s effect. She found that when the curfew started earlier, the number of gunshots went up during the first hour of the curfew.
“Essentially, you are taking away all your potential innocent bystanders, as well as your witnesses,” Carr said during a phone interview.
Measuring the effects of curfews is hard, she warned. There might be a reduction in reported crime, despite the fact that crime levels are the same or going up, she explained, “just because there is no one there to witness and report it anymore.”
On Oct. 11, Alsobrooks announced that enforcement of the youth curfew would be extended through the end of the year.