In response to consistently high youth crime rates and a recent spike in crime, the Board of Aldermen may consider a proposal to implement a curfew for city kids. But given the experiences of other cities, aldermen offered widely varying opinions regarding the efficacy of such a policy.
Although New Haven crime rates have decreased overall in the past decade, there has been no significant drop in violent crime committed by youths, which continues to occur in the Elm City at a rate five times above the national average. In response to last summer’s surge in youth crime, Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 is drafting a proposal that may include a curfew ordinance.
Chen said she thinks the problem can largely be attributed to a lack of parental accountability. A curfew ordinance would provide parents with an incentive to be more responsible, she said.
“People have noticed so many kids on the street unsupervised,” she said. “If we did have a curfew ordinance, the parents would start paying attention to where their child is.”
But Laki Vazakas, a coordinator at Youth Rights Media, a nonprofit organization in New Haven, said he thinks the introduction of a curfew ordinance would be a short-term solution that would overlook the root causes of the problem.
“I think these are diversions away from core issues,” he said. “The most important thing is community dialogue, and the proposal has to be vetted and looked at in terms of long-term sustainability.”
Keith Groom, a New Haven resident who grew up in the city, said New Haven’s contemporary youth no longer benefit from the same facilities that were available a few decades ago. He said his neighbors used to watch out for children who were out late at night, and would escort them back to their homes.
Several other cities, including Washington, D.C., have made use of curfew ordinances in the past, with mixed results. Washington Urban Institute Senior Research Assistant Caterina Roman said her study of the D.C. curfew demonstrated that the ordinance had no impact on violent crime, nor did it decrease the number of emergency calls. But she said the curfew was not properly enforced, as police officers did not receive adequate incentives to implement the law.
Research conducted on the effect of curfews in California by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice also showed that curfews did not significantly affect crime levels. Center on Juvenile Criminal Justice Executive Director Daniel Macallair said the cities in California that saw the largest drop in violent youth crime did not have any curfew.
Macallair said that while a curfew may be an appealing measure, it will not solve the deeper social issues causing the crime problem.
“What ends up happening is that you divert police resources away from more important stuff,” he said. “It sounds good in the headlines, but it’s not going to solve anything.”
But Roman said curfews can have a positive effect, though their success requires dialogue between the police and the community to reduce tension, and should go hand-in-hand with constructive measures such as night-time recreation.
“Some jurisdictions have used a grace period,” she said. “There has to be a lot of dialogue going on about who can be on the streets, [and] what you also need is places that have recreation like a midnight basketball program.”
The city has created a number of youth initiatives over the last few months. On Jan. 1, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced a series of new youth programs, such as “Open Schools” — a program that offers after-school programs for 100 students each at six area schools — and an expansion of summer employment opportunities for young people. In addition, the School Readiness Council received a $797,000 federal grant to improve the city’s early education programs.
Chen said she does not feel a curfew ordinance is any different from other programs affecting youths.
“What’s the difference between this and a program that gives money to an organization that encourages parents being involved in the children’s lives,” she said. “It’s the same things in that the law is helping parents becoming more accountable for their children.”
The Aldermanic Youth Committee’s first meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15, when Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsy Clark said its members will perform a full review of all youth activities.