Salisbury council OKs youth curfew
By Mark Wineka
The city of Salisbury now has a curfew for youth.
City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to establish a nightly curfew for boys and girls under 16.
The curfew would make it unlawful for juveniles to be in public places between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday-Thursday and between midnight and 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Councilman Bill Burgin said the “Youth Protection Ordinance” recognizes the council has a responsibility to protect kids.
“This will help parents a lot,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Woodson predicted.
Police Chief Mark Wilhelm, who recommended the curfew to council two weeks ago, said the ordinance will have the effect of holding parents more accountable while trying to keep children from being victims of crimes or being involved in mischief.
The ordinance allows many exceptions to the curfew and should not adversely affect a juvenile’s activities related to school, church and work, Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm said he used the language from similar ordinances in other cities to draft the curfew rules.
Before adopting the curfew Tuesday, council held a public hearing for citizen comment.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Richard Hudson of Lincolnton Road said. “This curfew will help.”
Hudson described all the road signs he has seen painted around Rowan County and how “Nobody saw nothing,” when the vandalisms occurred, though kids out late at night probably did it.
Children out under the cover of darkness without supervision are a recipe for trouble, Hudson said.
“These kids’ idea of fun and our idea of fun” are two different things, Hudson said. He added that a curfew will help get kids in bed where they belong so they are more alert the next day in school.
Clyde Overcash said his east Salisbury neighborhood and the Salisbury Neighborhood Action Group in which he has participated support the curfew, which he characterized as long overdue.
“It’s about time,” Overcash said. “… We have waited a long time for this.”
Mary Arey, a Marsh Street resident, said she favored the curfew. She described seeing children on the street in front of her home at 2 in the morning.
“They weren’t doing anything wrong, but you never know …” she said. The curfew should help reinforce parental discipline, she said.
Former District Court Judge Frank Montgomery spoke on behalf of Residents of Old Salisbury, which supported the curfew. The group takes in the West Square Historic District.
William Peoples of North Fulton Street said the curfew is needed, but it should be accompanied by the city’s investment in recreation and giving kids more things to do.
He noted the city has only one public gymnasium and one public swimming pool.
The Rev. Leamon Brown, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, expressed concerns that the possible $100 fine for parents and businesses found in violation of the ordinance was too high.
He said he hoped the circumstances behind each violation would be considered on an individual basis.
The ordinance’s definition for public places would include restaurants, theaters, stores, bowling alleys, schools, playgrounds, parks, streets, sidewalks and parking lots.
Juveniles violating the curfew could be subject to being referred to juvenile court, but “the complaint may be closed with no further action after a meeting with the child and family,” the ordinance says.
The matter also could be diverted from court to some other community resource.
Parents or guardians and owners or operators of establishments where the curfew is violated also can be held accountable under the ordinance. They could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $100.
A parent or guardian violates the ordinance “if he or she knowingly permits, or by insufficient control, allows the juvenile to remain in any public place or on the premises of any establishment … during the restricted hours.”
“This requirement is intended,” the ordinance adds, “to hold neglectful or careless parents up to a reasonable community standard of parental responsibility through an objective test. It shall, therefore, be no defense that a parent was completely indifferent to the activities or conduct or whereabouts of such juvenile.”
Wilhelm emphasized again Tuesday the curfew proposal allows for several exceptions.
A juvenile will not be in violation of the curfew if he or she is with a parent or guardian or accompanied by an adult 18 years or older who has been authorized by the parent to be with the juvenile.
Exceptions also are spelled out for things such as emergencies; being en route to or from school-, civic- or church-related activities; traveling from a place of employment; traveling in a motor vehicle with a parent or guardian; or having a special permit from the Police Department.
Mayor Susan Kluttz said she viewed the curfew as a way to protect children. She described it as a public safety issue and a followup to the gang prevention initiatives the city undertook two years ago after the death of 13-year-old Treasure Feamster.
“It seems like a very reasonable start,” Councilman Mark Lewis said of the Youth Protection Ordinance.
The new law builds in a lot of discretion for its enforcement and places an emphasis on parents taking responsibility, Lewis said.
Noting Brown’s concern about the cost of the fine, Lewis said it will be up to the court to decide what the fine would be in each case.
Burgin agreed with Peoples that the city needs to look at investing more in recreational options for kids.
Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said the curfew will help put kids “in the right place at the right time” ó at home with their parents.