With 25 murders in New Haven so far this year — already the highest total since 1994 — one neighborhood is considering the use of a strict youth curfew to keeps its streets safe.
The curfew, which is being considered by officials and residents of the Dwight neighborhood just west of campus, would keep anyone under 16 years old off the streets after 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 p.m. on weekends. Teens traveling to school-, religious- or community-sponsored events would be allowed out, as well as any traveling to work or responding to an emergency, but committee members and Dwight residents alike are unsure how to implement these exceptions fairly and effectively. Several Dwight residents said they supported the curfew, but teenagers in the neighborhood are, predictably, firmly against it. And city officials and organizations are also divided over the proposal, which some say may help curb the rising crime rate but would require extensive planning and regulation.
There is even confusion about where exactly some stand on the curfew.
“The police department has often been against curfews because of the huge allocation of resources it requires,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said. “We ought to be really careful before we restrict the mobility of kids in the city.”
Despite the alderman’s remarks, New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said the department is largely in favor of instituting a curfew for Dwight’s youth.
And both NHPD Chief Frank Limon and Dwight-Kensington district manager Lt. Raymond Hassett, the officer who coordinates patrols and operations in the area, said they approve of a curfew, but are awaiting a formal proposal before issuing further comment, Hartman said.
Hartman added that the department supports some kind of curfew because teenagers are often both the victims and perpetrators of crimes in the Dwight area.
But City Hall is against the policy that the NHPD supports. City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said the average age of shooting victims and suspects is 29, well above the age of a teenager, and he added that most of the crime problems in the city are the result of returning prisoners, not kids.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said that he is against a curfew because of the inherent difficulties with enforencement. Still, he said he thought the discussion was an important one.
“It leads to a conversation about what opportunities our kids have and what the role of families and government should be in making sure they have the support system they need,” DeStefano said.
The Dwight Central Management Team, a local committee run by residents in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood, spent over an hour-and-a-half on Monday debating the details of the proposal, which has not been officially written yet. Several curfew proposals have been rejected by the city in the past, including a notable 2006 plan which suggested a citywide curfew.
But with concerns about crime in Dwight, the committee is again considering submitting a curfew proposal.
While the members of the committee could not be reached for comment, several residents and local police officers told the News on Thursday that they would support a proposal.
“In Dwight, we know that a significant criminal element includes some teenagers,” Hartman said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be out on the streets if you’re 14 years old.”
A number of Dwight residents interviewed said they were in favor of a curfew, considering the rise in teenage crime.
“A lot of the kids who have been killed were just innocent bystanders,” Vilma Jones told the News as she was picking up her 11-year-old daughter Kayla at the school bus stop. “I don’t think the curfew will stop the ones who are committing the crimes, but it might keep the good kids away from trouble.”
“I don’t want any of that happening to me,” her daughter agreed. “I think the curfew sounds fair.”
Five younger residents expressed concerns about the details of the proposal.
Chris Hernandez, a 17-year-old Dwight resident, expressed concern about how local teens with jobs could prove they were actually going to work. Hernandez said that he is paid “under the table” for his job and that a lot of teenagers in Dwight are as well.
Nefta Castell, 20, said he thought that the problem was not a lack of rules, but a lack of responsibility.
“The city is trying to be a parent. Parents need to be parents.”
The next Dwight Central Management Team meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 150 Edgewood Ave.