C.F. will reconsider juvenile curfew
CENTRAL FALLS – Mayor James A. Diossa said he’ll work closely with the new City Council once it is seated next month to determine if the time has come to repeal the city’s juvenile curfew ordinance and Council President Robert Ferri says he’s in favor of removing it from the books.
The mayor’s comments to The Times came one day after the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the Central Falls-based Progreso Latino announced in a joint press release that they are urging Diossa and the council to repeal the contested ordinance, arguing that curfews don’t reduce crime and may undermine public safety.
Diossa in a message to The Times on Wednesday afternoon said that he asked City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk to work with Central Falls Police Chief Col. James J. Mendonca to “examine the legal and policy issues relative to the curfew” following an initial ACLU inquiry in October.
“Since the curfew was implemented in 2008, we have made significant improvements in our police-community relations through the creation of a community policing unit, the hiring of more diverse officers, the staffing of school resource officers, and greater outreach and after-school opportunities for our youth,” Diossa said. “I intend to work closely with the new City Council in January see if it is time to repeal the curfew.”
Central Falls’ juvenile curfew ordinance prohibits anyone who is under the age of 18 and unaccompanied by an adult to be out between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Juveniles found in violation of the ordinance will be first issued a written warning by police and turned over to the custody of their
parents. For the first offense by the parent, the fine is $100, and for each subsequent offense, the fine increases by an additional $100.
Ferri on Thursday said he’s certainly for repealing the ordinance, as he’s never been a fan of the curfew as it “puts a burden on the Police Department.”
“I think it’s a parenting thing, knowing where your child is at all times,” Ferri said. “I’d certainly be for repealing it and I’ve never been a fan of it.”
“I read the ACLU’s concerns and Progreso Latino’s concerns. To put an age on something like that, I’m just not for it and I never have been for it … I never believed in the curfew, not in Central Falls or for that matter anywhere in this area...” Ferri added. “My feeling is I’m all for repealing it. I don’t think it’s necessary, I think the city’s doing so well. I think it’s safe out there, I really do. I like what’s going on in the city right now.”
In the city’s ordinances, the juvenile curfew was enacted to promote the general welfare and protect the general public through the reduction of juvenile violence and crime within the city; promote the safety and well-being of the city’s youngest citizens, whose life inexperience renders them vulnerable to becoming participants in unlawful activities, particularly drug and gang activities, and to being victimized by older perpetrators of crime; and to help foster and strengthen parental responsibility for children.
However, the ACLU of Rhode Island and Progreso Latino – in a three-page letter to the mayor – made their case for the city to rescind the ordinance.
“Curfew ordinances … literally make every teenager out at night a suspect. More specifically, they make perfectly innocent activity – walking, talking, or traveling outside – illegal,” the letter penned by ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown and Progreso Latino Executive Director Mario Bueno reads. “By doing so, they give police virtually unbridled discretion to stop, detain, harass, and search teenagers. This can only encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”
“Since the only determinant of a person committing this ‘offense’ is whether he or she is a certain age, police can stop any young-looking person they choose as a potential violator and demand proof of their age,” the letter continues. “Since such proof is something that many youth are unlikely to have, brief stops have the potential to escalate into confrontational encounters, creating crimes where none existed before.”
While the ordinance in- cludes several exceptions for teens, including those at work, running errands for a parent, on a sidewalk directly abutting where they live, or attending a sponsored activity – leading the letter to say it is “more thoughtfully crafted than most” – the ACLU and Progreso Latino write: “we believe that of all the interventions to address the problem of teenagers ‘hanging around doing nothing,’ police and judicial involvement are among the most toxic and counter-productive.”