Proposal could lead to youth curfew

A curfew for city youth could soon be implemented if the Board of Aldermen approves a controversial proposal submitted Tuesday night that would prevent legal minors from loitering outside after 10 p.m.

The proposal follows two particularly violent summers, which have heightened the city’s awareness of crime committed by young people. During the summer, two 13-year-olds were killed by stray bullets shot by teenagers thought to be members of neighborhood gangs, and last week a 17-year-old, himself a suspect in another murder, was shot to death.

The summer also saw a stepped-up effort by the city to engage youth in a variety of athletic and professional programs, including ones that placed young people in summer jobs and others that provided professional mentors for youth. The programs, part of an initiative launched last year by Mayor John DeStefano Jr., were widely considered successful, and some city officials are hoping the programs continue into the school year.

The curfew, proposed by Aldermen Joyce Chen ’01, Yusuf Shah, Elizabeth McCormack and Michelle Edmonds Sepulveda, tries to build upon the success of the mayor’s youth initiative by suggesting that enforcement of the curfew could be used as a tool to identify and provide services to at-risk teens.

But the proposal has garnered criticism from other aldermen and city police, who question whether the city can legislate a solution to the violence that hit New Haven over the summer.

“I understand how people can want a curfew, but I think we have to get at the real issues so we can force a stop to the violence not just for a week,” Ward 28 Alderwoman Babz Rawls-Ivy said.

DeStefano said in a statement that he was open to dialogue about the curfew but that he was hesitant to embrace it; he opposed a similar curfew when it was proposed in the mid-1990s. Some aldermen at Tuesday’s meeting said a curfew would be ineffective in solving problems whose causes, they said, run much deeper than a simple desire to commit mischief.

Rawls-Ivy, who has been active in the board’s work with city youths, said the real issues are how supportive and attentive a child’s parents are, the quality of the youth’s education, and issues of class and race. The mayor’s summer programs were successful, she said, because they gave youths “constructive activities” led by adults who made them feel welcome.

But Shirley Banks, two of whose daughters were murdered in her Newhallville neighborhood during the 1990s, said the curfew would improve the quality of life in her neighborhood. She said that she does not let her sons or grandsons outside and that many of her neighbors also keep their children indoors. Banks echoed the suggestion of the curfew’s authors in proposing that the curfew be used to identify at-risk children and to work with their parents to keep the children from being victims or perpetrators of crimes.

“Why should they be against it?” Banks said of the aldermen. “Children need to be home. Where are their parents?”

Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said the YPD has no official position on the curfew, and said a curfew is not a main focus of the force.

The YPD patrols some New Haven streets in the Dwight neighborhood where many undergraduates live in off-campus apartments.

Patten did confirm that the curfew could apply to Yale students aged 17 or under. He said he did not know how the law, if passed, would be enforced on the Yale campus, and he said the department has not started planning for a possible curfew.

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