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Editorial: Minding the kids

For Salisbury parents, the question “It’s 11 p.m. ó do you know where your children are?” may soon become more than a public-service announcement cliche.
If the city imposes the curfew proposed by Police Chief Mark Wilhelm, the question will take on significantly more importance for parents and guardians of children under the age of 16. Not knowing where your children are could result in legal action against the parents, as well as the child. While a misdemeanor citation and fine of $100 might not sound severe, the punitive impact itself isn’t as important as the underlying message: Parents should be accountable for their under-age children, and those who neglect that obligation should and will be held accountable.
The proposed ordinance is driven in large part by concerns about youth gangs and their recuitment of young members. It’s a concern shared by municipalities across the nation, and many have adopted curfews to help reduce youth crime and ó of greater importance ó crimes in which youth are the victim. Inevitably, curfews raise questions ranging from the logistics of additional enforcement duties for officers to concerns about whether the restrictions violate young peoples’ rights or disproportionally target minorities. At a June 16 public hearing, parents and others will have a chance to explore such issues and voice their feelings about the proposal. We hope that, along with the adult voices, the public hearing also includes comments from the young people.
If parents aren’t already attentive to how and with whom their children spend their time, you might argue another law is pointless. A citation isn’t going to compensate for years of indifference or neglect, or miraculously reform a wayward juvenile. But ó getting back to the idea of protection ó removing some juveniles from late-night loitering may literally be removing them from the line of fire. In the best-case scenario, it also wouldn’t simply result in penalties but be the catalyst for engaging at-risk families in a broader safety-net system. Sanctions should be linked to support.
Meanwhile, consider the conclusions of a survey done a few years ago by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which polled more than 250 municipalities with youth curfews.
“Ninety-three percent of the survey cities (257) said that a nighttime curfew is a useful tool for police officers,” a report said. “The city officials commented that curfews help to reduce the incidence of juveniles becoming victims by preventing ‘gathering,’ which also means more calls for the police. They said that a curfew compels parents to be more responsible and gives them a specific reason to tell their children they cannot be out after a certain time, and they said that curfews are a good prevention tool, keeping the good kids good and keeping the at-risk kids from becoming victims or victimizers.”
A curfew isn’t a cure-all for gang warfare and family disfunction. But if it can promote parental responsibility and help protect young people from falling victim to violence and thuggery on the streets, it’s worth trying here.

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