Beginning Friday night, a youth curfew will go into effect across Baltimore, a response by Mayor Brandon Scott to the city’s recent surge in teen gun violence.

The curfew, which for now will be enforced only on weekends and holidays, is part of a broader strategy by the Scott administration to keep kids out of harm’s way in the summer months, when violent crime tends to rise. At an Inner Harbor press conference on Wednesday, city officials stressed their approach to the curfew is designed to engage kids while minimizing their interactions with law enforcement.

Still, Scott’s move to enforce Baltimore’s long-standing curfew ordinance comes despite research showing that the tool has largely been an ineffective deterrent to crime in other cities, as well as concerns that even a less punitive approach to the restriction could lead to unnecessary engagement between law enforcement and young residents.

Here’s what you need to know heading into the weekend:

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What are the rules of the curfew?

For now, Scott’s plan for curfew enforcement applies only to weekends and holidays. The city plans to begin enforcing the restriction with the start of Memorial Day weekend this Friday night, and continue on weekends and holidays through Labor Day weekend at the end of the summer.

The curfew requires unaccompanied Baltimore residents ages 13 and under to be home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekend and holiday nights, and requires residents ages 14 to 16 to be home between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. during those periods.

Still, officials reserved the option Wednesday to change the terms of curfew enforcement later in the summer. The city plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the curfew as it is being implemented, and Scott’s office said they will reassess when the school year ends whether to switch from weekend to daily enforcement.

An internal Baltimore Police Department memo outlining curfew protocol for officers does not distinguish between weekdays or weeknights, but police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said the department plans to follow the guidance from the mayor’s office.

Baltimore’s curfew ordinance includes numerous exceptions, including for children accompanied by a parent or guardian, engaged in city-sanctioned activities, traveling to or from a job or exercising First Amendment rights. The ordinance also allows for minors to be outdoors on the sidewalk next to their home or just outside the residence of their next-door neighbor.

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The mayor announced the city's strategy for teen violence this summer, including enforcement of the youth curfew, at a press conference this afternoon on May 24, 2023.
The mayor announced the city’s strategy for teen violence this summer, including enforcement of the youth curfew, at a press conference on May 24, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Does this apply to the whole city?

The curfew covers the entire city, though officials plan to focus enforcement in a few targeted areas: the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Federal Hill.

The city will station non-law enforcement staff at popular gathering spots across those three neighborhoods to monitor for kids out after hours.

At the same time, four specially marked transport vans driven by public school bus drivers will roam neighborhoods to scout for kids. A social worker and youth “peer ambassador” will also ride along in the transport vehicles.

Children picked up by the city after curfew will be brought to one of two late night centers, either C.C. Jackson Recreation Center in Park Heights or Councilwoman Rita R. Church Community Center in East Baltimore, where a total of 18 non law-enforcement staffers, including social workers, mental health clinicians and Department of Recreation and Parks employees, will oversee kids and contact their parents or guardians for pickup.

In cases where staffers are not able to reach a parent or guardian, the city plans to call in support from the Department of Social Services.

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What are the consequences for breaking curfew?

At Wednesday’s news conference, Scott and his public safety team stressed that their version of enforcing the restriction is designed to connect at-risk children with social services and to steer away from punitive measures.

But the policy does impose a tiered penalty system. Parents or guardians will receive a warning on a child’s first offense for violating curfew. On a second offense, they will be assessed a $50 fine or have to attend family counseling. On a third offense, parents can face fines of up to $500 or mandated community service.

How successful the city will be at convincing kids to get into transport vans, though, remains to be seen — a concern raised by some City Council members at a hearing Wednesday night. City leaders said they will not require kids to show identification or force them to go to the youth centers. Staff are only authorized to pick up children who give consent.

Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said Wednesday that she expects the city’s forceful, persistent messaging to be a strong deterrent on its own.

“At the end of the day, if a young person decides that they are not going to disperse — again, we won’t be forcing young people into vehicles,” she said. “I suspect that we’ll either see young people go home — because we plan on being pretty relentless — or getting into the vehicle.”

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But do curfews work?

Dozens of major cities across the U.S. have curfews in place for young people, but results of enforcement have been mixed, with little evidence showing the tool reduces crime.

Despite criticism that Scott’s decision to enforce Baltimore’s curfew is simply a “performative” measure, the mayor has doubled down on the tactic. He and other city leaders argued Wednesday that their version of curfew enforcement will work, in part because they said their social service-centered approach is different from curfews that have been tried previously in Baltimore or elsewhere.

Mayor Scott, center, joined by Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, right, and other officials, speaks at a press conference after two teens were injured in a shooting in the 400 block of East Pratt Street.
Mayor Scott, center, joined by Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, right, and other officials, speak at a press conference after two teens were injured in a shooting in the 400 block of East Pratt Street. (Adam Willis/The Baltimore Banner)

Philadelphia is among the cities to turn recently to its curfew ordinance as a response to teen violence. Last summer, that city imposed a strict 10 p.m. curfew on residents under the age of 18, and the City Council voted in December to make that restriction permanent.

Yet Philadelphia saw a record number of children shot during the period the 10 p.m curfew was enforced last summer, according to reporting by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Data analysis by The Inquirer also found that the vast majority of youth shootings in Philadelphia since 2015 have happened in the hours before curfew, with just over a quarter of juvenile shootings happening overnight.

Prince George’s County, meanwhile, instituted one month of curfew enforcement on Labor Day of 2022, later extending the action for the remainder of the year. The Washington Post reported in October that the county’s initial stretch of curfew enforcement yielded “mixed results,” with police data showing total criminal offenses down 5% during restricted hours but up slightly across all hours of the day.

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And earlier research on youth curfews have found little evidence of the policy’s effectiveness. A 2016 study by the nonprofit Campbell Collaboration synthesized research from 12 different curfew reports, including analyses of restrictions in Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C. Researchers noted that the question warrants further study, but they concluded that curfews either “have no effect” on crime and victimization, or “the effect is too small to be reliably detected” with available data.

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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