Youth curfew not expected to pass

A controversial youth curfew ordinance under consideration by the Board of Aldermen has little chance of being approved, some aldermen said Wednesday night.

The ordinance, which has been under discussion since September, would require minors to be in their homes from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. An emotionally charged public hearing on Wednesday drew passionate testimony — mostly in opposition to the curfew — from parents and community members who at times veered off the topic of the ordinance to discuss gun control, police-community relations and budgetary issues. Solutions for this summer’s spate of youth crime were discussed, with suggestions including establishing more youth initiatives focused on education and mentoring.

Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King, who originally proposed the ordinance along with three other aldermen, said after the meeting that it is unlikely that the Board of Alderman will vote to approve the curfew ordinance.

“Now we’re going to be in dialogue about a solution instead,” he said.

Instead of voting on the proposal at its next meeting, the board will discuss other ways to address youth crime, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark, who chairs the Youth Committee, said after the meeting.

“Whether it’s more activities, whether it’s open schools, the city is going to bear the brunt of some of this,” Clark said. “One of the things I’m hoping is that this will continue to be a dialogue. Let’s see if we can go to the foundation for some money, let’s see if we can go to the state for some money, let’s see if there’s some kind of support we can get for business.”

During the three and half hour meeting, one of the first objections speakers raised was the police department’s ability to apply the curfew evenly across all New Haven neighborhoods. New Haven police officer Shafiq R.F. Abdussabur said that in discussions with Chief of Police Francisco Ortiz, they questioned the ability of the NHPD to effectively administer the curfew.

“We don’t believe that we have the resources to enforce this curfew,” he said. “We have to think about what we’re talking about when we’re asking police to step in a more assertive role.”

Youth advocate Hector Glynn, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said the unenforceable nature of the curfew could lead to a biased enforcement of the statute. Glynn said studies of city-wide teen curfews in four California counties found discriminatory enforcement of the curfews.

Rabbi Peter Stein said passing unenforceable ordinances would undermine city authority figures because teens would find a way to work around it.

“Young people will catch on,” he said. “Do we have a realistic expectation that this ordinance will be enforced equally?”

Many parents who spoke were concerned that the ordinance cut into their authority as caretakers, but residents in favor of the curfew said it was necessary in situations where parents were unwilling or unable to ensure their children’s safety.

In a passionate speech that drew claps and cheers from the crowd, resident Cheryl Wilson said the curfew was necessary to protect New Haven teens.

“You have to protect these children,” she said. “We have to get them off the streets. The older people are living longer than the children. This is a start. Why can’t we start here and make it work?”

Although opinion at the meeting stood overwhelmingly against the curfew, almost everyone who spoke both in favor of and against the ordinance stressed the need for after-school activities to occupy New Haven youth. Among the solutions proposed were youth centers to occupy teens in the after-school and evening hours, and a variety of mentoring programs that would connect New Haven adults and teens.

Anthony Smith, a New Haven native, said the current lack of youth community centers stands in stark contrast to his days as a teen in the Elm City, when organizations like the YMCA and YWCA proliferated. Smith said one solution to current ills is to occupy youth with after-school and summer jobs.

Others who spoke said the curfew was a temporary fix for larger problems, including the glorification of violence in the media and lax gun control laws.

“The curfew in the present form is not something that we want, but we learned a lot,” Ward 28 Alderman Mordechai Sandman said. “We learned what the kids had to say and we took it to heart, we really did.”

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