When Philadelphia passed a bill in December to make permanent a 10 p.m. curfew for anyone younger than 18, city officials said it would help keep kids safe and out of trouble. But James Aye has seen otherwise.
“All it does it increase police contact, and there’s still no resources,” said Aye, the co-founder and associate director at YEAH Philly, a nonprofit that aims to work with young people affected by violence.
After a shooting at the Inner Harbor that left two teens hospitalized, Mayor Brandon Scott declared that Baltimore, too, would be “going back to the old days” to resume enforcement of its curfew law.
“This is about us doing everything in our power to keep our young people safe,” Scott said at a press conference one day after the shooting.
The shooting is part of a wave of gun violence among high school-age Baltimore residents that has only worsened in recent months. The first three months of this year have marked the deadliest start to a year for Baltimore teens since at least 2015.
The city’s youth curfew policy requires kids younger than 14 years old to be home by 9 p.m., and those between 14 and 16 to be home by 11 p.m. between Memorial Day and the last Sunday of August. The rest of the year, the curfew for the older age group is 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 p.m. the rest of the week.
Beginning on Memorial Day, the city will also roll out “Youth Connection Centers,” where young people found in violation of the curfew can be taken.
As Baltimore looks to ramp up enforcement of its curfew, The Banner looked at how similar policies played out in Philadelphia and nearby Prince George’s County.
Aye said the curfew in Philadelphia has only increased the likelihood of teens in handcuffs, of teens taken to police facilities for simple curfew violations, and of families coming into contact with the Department of Human Services when they don’t need to be. Kids tell him they need more safe spaces to hang out and more activities to engage in, and the curfew doesn’t solve those problems, he said.
A similar story has played out in nearby Prince George’s County, where leaders announced a ramp-up of its youth curfew in September after two years of rising violence.
Beverly John, founder of the community group The Talking Drum Incorporated and a member of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, along with other activists, helped set up a forum where kids could express their feelings on issues such as the curfew. Kids in the county said the law made them feel devalued, as well as “a little demoralized and criminalized,” John said.
“It was not a good thing for them to feel as though everybody’s looking at them as criminals, when the majority are not,” she added.
Research shows that curfews are largely ineffective at reducing crime. A 2015 study on Washington, D.C.’s curfew found that gunfire in the city actually increased during curfew hours, and called its effect on safety “ambiguous.”
Another report published in 2016 by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit research network, which looked at 12 different reports from several areas, including Prince George’s County and D.C., concluded that curfews do not have much of an effect on juvenile crime — or on crime in general.
Still, in times of rising violence involving young people, officials are “always looking for a quick way to implement a program or a policy that will result in the perception of public safety,” said Caterina Roman, a professor in the department of criminal justice at Temple University. Fear is a big motivator, she said, and curfews are “a feel-good tool.”
And across the country, there has been a “wave of new curfew laws, expanded curfew laws, enforcing curfew laws,” according to Vic Wiener, a staff attorney at Juvenile Law Center. “Baltimore is definitely not alone,” Wiener said.
Baltimore’s curfew law has been on the books since at least 1994, but has been enforced only sporadically. The details of how Scott’s administration will enforce the law this summer remain unclear.
Similarly, Philadelphia’s curfew law has been on the books since 1955, and until last year, 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to be out until midnight, while younger teens had 10 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. curfews.
In July, facing an ongoing gun violence crisis, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill that prohibited anyone under the age of 18 from being out on the streets past 10 p.m. during the summer months. In December, the City Council voted to make the curfew time permanent.
Philadelphia, like Baltimore, also has centers where teens can go at night, or can be taken if they break curfew. Those “community evening resource centers” are open from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., and provide meals, games, photography and carpentry classes, among other programming, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Officials argued the curfew would protect kids from harm and reduce crime involving young people.
Yet, crime statistics reported by The Inquirer shed some doubt on the curfew’s effectiveness in keeping people safe and reducing violence.
Last summer, when the city’s new 10 p.m. curfew was in place, police statistics indicate more children were shot “than during any other summer on record,” the Inquirer reported.
And its reporting found that the vast majority of youth shootings since 2015 have happened in the hours before curfew, with just over a quarter of juvenile shootings occurring overnight.
But city leaders said measures to keep kids safe are worth it, even if they save only one life, the Inquirer reported.
“I’m not going to apologize for seeking to do all that I can to help our young people,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who championed the bill.
Wiener argues that curfews can also cause more harm to young people. For one, curfews mean more contact between police and teens, which “we know can lead to escalation,” they said.
Given the history of police brutality, young people may be terrified or experience trauma associated with police, added Aye. When they see police, they may run, or freeze, or resist, he said, which might lead to “charges that are more violent.”
In addition, if police pat down a teen who is out past curfew and find a gun or drugs, “then that kid suddenly has a charge,” Wiener said.
“So curfews are oftentimes a route into the juvenile system that’s not actually related to young people being out in public and doing any particular harm during curfew hours,” Wiener said.
The law can also criminalize young people experiencing homelessness and those who experience abuse at home, Wiener said, emphasizing that young people “might not be at home for a whole host of reasons.”
After it was advocated for, Philadelphia’s curfew law now has an exception for teens experiencing homelessness, Wiener said. Baltimore’s law does not list a similar exception.
Other teens, Aye said, may have parents who work two or three jobs and can’t always be home at night to watch them. In certain situations, if a guardian does not pick up a teen caught out after curfew from a police facility within three hours, or refuses to do so, police are instructed to notify the Department of Human Services. Aye calls it a “pipeline” that increases the chances a family may end up connected to DHS when they don’t need to be.
Barry Johnson, a spokesperson for Philadelphia City Councilmember Gilmore Richardson, wrote in an email that since the creation of the city’s Community Evening Resource Centers, it has been “extremely rare for young people to be taken to the police stations,” and the officers’ first step is to take a child home.
The city’s law says teens living in districts without a resource center can be taken to a police facility if a parent isn’t at home or refuses to accept them. But Johnson said four of the six police divisions in Philadelphia have the centers, and the remaining divisions are expected to get them in late June.
Johnson noted the City Council has allocated more than $200 million toward anti-violence initiatives, including grants for community organizations. One organization used its grant to expand a program that teaches carpentry skills to at-risk young people and helps keep them away from gun violence.
Prince George’s County passed a curfew law in 1995, but it hadn’t been enforced in decades until this past fall, when County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced at a Labor Day press conference that it would be in effect for at least the following 30 days. The announcement came after the county experienced its deadliest month in four decades, The Washington Post reported.
“I cannot stand by and continue to watch children who are shot and killed, who are not only committing crimes but harming others, and do nothing about it,” Alsobrooks said at the time.
The county later decided to extend the enforcement through the end of 2022, and leaders said it would be reevaluated in January, The Post reported. It is unclear whether or not that evaluation occurred, nor whether the county continued to enforce the curfew after January. A county spokesperson did not provide answers to those questions when contacted by The Banner.
Under the county’s curfew, kids need to be home at 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday, and at midnight on Friday and Saturdays.
Last October, around one month into the county’s enforcement of the curfew, Alsobrooks and Police Chief Malik Aziz reported that crime was down by 20% during curfew hours compared with the previous 30-day period. However, The Washington Post reported that crime had risen by 2% overall since the county started enforcing the law, though crime had decreased 5% during hours when the curfew was enforced compared with the same period the year before. The Post reported at the time that crime varies each year, “making it difficult to draw a definite conclusion as to whether the curfew worked.”
The law could also be difficult for police to enforce, said Angelo Consoli, president of FOP Lodge 89 in Prince George’s County. Officers didn’t know how strictly to enforce the curfew, he said, especially because of a new use-of-force act passed in Maryland in 2021.
“What do we do when the kid takes off running? Do we chase him or not chase him? Because if you chase after him and have to tackle him, they could sit there and go after you for the use of force saying, ‘Why did you tackle a kid when it was just for curfew?’” he said.
Police may deal with the issue if they come across young people on another call, he said, but they wouldn’t specifically patrol or look for teens who were breaking curfew.
It’s also difficult to figure out the age of people who may be out after curfew, he said.
“There’s plenty of 18-year-olds who look like they’re 15, but there’s also plenty of 15-year-olds that look they’re 20-something. And now you want me to guess,” he said. “So that becomes an issue as well.”
In a statement, Alsobrooks said the first step officers will take is to inform young people of the curfew and tell them to return home.
“I think we can all agree that none of us want to see negative interactions between police and our youth during this curfew,” she said.
John thinks the curfew could also be causing residents to be more fearful of younger Prince Georgians.
“They’re believing that anytime you see a group of kids wandering around, they must be up to something,” she said. “That’s an impact. And it’s a negative impact.”
In Philadelphia, Aye said there should be more places where teens feel welcome and safe to spend time and more resources for teens who may need help, instead of such police encounters.
“Even if a young person is fined or arrested or transported to the station, there’s nothing that can stop that from happening the next day,” Aye said. “And when we talk about safety, there’s no evidence that support that a curfew has ever worked.”