The Washington Post
District enforces its youth curfew
D.C. brings back policy ahead of Prince George’s
D.C. police quietly resumed enforcing the city’s long-standing juvenile curfew last month in what the chief described as an effort to concentrate on areas where crime has spiked and young people tend to congregate.
Sixteen people have been picked up since Aug. 1 for violating the District’s curfew, police said. The curfew restricts activity for those under 17 during nighttime hours.
Police began enforcing the curfew, which was largely suspended during the pandemic, without fanfare — a direct contrast to the Labor Day news conference in neighboring Prince George’s County. The leadership there, frustrated by a spate of killings and violence in August, announced a 30-day crackdown on its own curfew for youths to begin Friday.
The efforts from law enforcement to keep children and teenagers inside comes as both jurisdictions are struggling to reduce violent crime, with youth arrests in 2022 up about 12 percent in D.C. and 53 percent in Prince George’s compared with the same time last year. Proponents of the curfew hope it will keep young people safe and prevent any violence they may cause. But experts who have long studied the tool say that it risks exacerbating tense dynamics between police and communities and is rarely, if ever, effective in reducing violence.
“It’s a really blunt instrument that criminalizes and impedes on the rights of young people, particularly Black youth,” said Eduardo Ferrer, a Georgetown University law professor and legal and policy director of D.C. Lawyers for Youth. “The risks are high, while the benefits are very low.”
Curfews targeting youths exist in at least 400 towns, cities,
counties and states across the country, according to a survey conducted by the National Youth Rights Association. They gained momentum in the 1990s — when politicians touted a tough-oncrime posture in response to rising violence — but the policies fell out of favor more recently when racial justice protests called attention to police killings of Black men stemming from minor offenses. There are no active juvenile curfews in Alexandria or the counties of Montgomery, Fairfax or Arlington, officials in each jurisdiction said. Norfolk and Richmond have curfews for minors, though their ordinances say little about how police are supposed to enforce them.
In D.C. and Prince George’s, the policies allow police officers to stop and question anyone they believe to be under 17 and outside after hours. In D.C., those hours are between midnight and 6 a.m. each night during the summer. For the rest of the year, the hours are midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Sunday through Thursday. In Prince George’s, the restrictions are in place between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from midnight to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Both jurisdictions offer exceptions for minors accompanied by a parents or working, among other circumstances.
In the 1990s, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a flurry of lawsuits challenging curfews nationwide, arguing that they violated the rights of minors and their parents. In 1996, after the ACLU of D.C. sued, a federal judge struck down the District’s curfew — saying the city had not proved that the law would, in practice, benefit public safety. The curfew was reinstated by 1999, but similar concerns about its efficacy remain.
This week, ACLU chapters in D.C. and Maryland renewed their criticism.
“We oppose the County’s decision to put all children under virtual house arrest,” Yanet Amanuel, public policy director of the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “Criminalizing the innocent behavior of children is also fundamentally ineffective.”
Multiple studies have also found that the prime time for violence committed by youths is right after school lets out in the afternoon — a concern the federal judge raised in 1996 — and not the late-night stretches when curfews are in place.
One study that analyzed the District’s juvenile curfew between 2006 and 2012 found that the policy actually led to an increase in gunshots citywide. When the District changed its cutoff time from midnight to 11 p.m., restricting youth activity by an extra hour, there were 0.045 additional gunfire incidents per hour, according to the study.
An analysis conducted by the Urban Institute found that the curfew in Prince George’s County, passed in 1995, had little effect on protecting children from violent crime — though it was associated with a reduction in the victimization of young adults ages 22 to 25.
D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III pushed back on the findings, saying that it is impossible to measure what would have happened without curfews in place. “If you see a 13- or 14-yearold out at 2 o’clock in the morning, something is wrong with that picture,” he added.
Still, the extent of curfew enforcement varies by jurisdiction and possibly by neighborhood. In D.C., the code allows police to detain youths who violate the curfew and release them to a parent or guardian, or to the family services division of the Department of Human Services until 6 a.m. The code also allows authorities to fine their parents up to $500.
But Contee said those penalties are rarely handed out, and officers typically drive youths home or to family services. He also said the officers who concentrate on curfew violations tend to patrol areas such as Gallery Place, where fights and robberies have been frequent and minors often congregate.
“We’re not randomly picking up kids,” he said, adding, “But we will engage when we have to.”
Throughout 2020 and 2021, as the pandemic raged, D.C. police sparingly stopped youths on curfew violations related to crime reduction. The department said it picked up six people last year and 61 people the year before (it detained additional curfew violators but said those were due to unique orders during periods of civil unrest and the pandemic that applied to people of all ages). They stopped 81 juveniles in 2019, the department said, and 63 in 2018.
In Prince George’s, the code states that penalties begin with a warning to parents and escalate after the first offense, allowing police to take youths to police stations until they are placed with parents, guardians or the Department of Social Services. The code similarly allows for police to fine parents for their children’s violation, with penalties ranging from $50 to $250, depending on the number of offenses.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday evening, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said that “the first measure our officers will take, if required, is to educate youth on the curfew and tell them to go home.”
Alsobrooks also defended her decision to have officers begin enforcing the curfew Friday.
“Our County is 84% Black and brown, which means we are working to protect children of color, including those who have been victims of violent crime at the hands of other children,” she said. “I think we can all agree that none of us want to see negative interactions between police and our youth during this curfew.”
Victoria Clark, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for an area in Northeast Washington that borders Prince George’s, said she is concerned that curfews will create more violent interactions between police and constituents. She urged local governments to instead invest in programming for youths and argued that any policy that restricts outdoor activities for kids deprives them of their childhood freedoms.
“As anyone who has raised children can tell you, telling kids they can’t do something is not likely to be effective,” she said. “It’s not addressing the root issue.”