Days before a youth curfew is set to take effect across Baltimore, Mayor Brandon Scott and city officials laid out plans for enforcement that they stressed are designed to engage kids and minimize their interactions with law enforcement.

The reinstatement of Baltimore’s long-standing curfew, outlined at an Inner Harbor news conference Wednesday, is one piece in a broader strategy by city leaders aimed at keeping kids out of harm’s way as summer break looms and the city grapples with an ongoing surge in teen gun violence.

Scott has doubled down on the curfew despite criticism from criminal justice reform advocates who have pointed to findings of ineffective curfews in other cities and argued that the policy could needlessly criminalize teens — a concern that one criminal criminal justice researcher said she still holds after hearing the Scott administration plan on Wednesday.

Beginning with the start of Memorial Day weekend on Friday, minors under the age of 14 are required to be home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekends and holidays, while children ages 14 to 16 cannot be out between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.. The city has tasked a team of non-law enforcement personnel to monitor popular gathering spots and assist in transporting children found out after hours to one of two late-night centers in East or West Baltimore.

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Scott’s policy includes a tiered enforcement system — the parent or guardian of a child will be cited with a warning; a second offense will come with a fine of $50 or required family counseling; for a third offense, parents will face fines of up to $500 or have to perform community service.

Scott on Wednesday stressed that his approach to enforcing curfew is a departure from the way the tactic has been deployed in the past, saying his administration is doing it “the right way.”

Shantay Jackson, director of the mayor’s public safety office, said previous attempts to enforce a youth curfew in Baltimore have over-relied on law enforcement, emphasizing that the city’s approach this time draws on a “village” of support to offer services for kids and keep them safe.

“This is not going to be police going around criminalizing Black children,” she said.

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 this afternoon on May 24, 2023. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

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Details on the city’s strategy for curbing youth violence this summer comes on the heels of the most violent start to a year for Baltimore teens since at least 2015. Scott’s administration has searched for responses to the problem in recent months, and touted a suite of other programs Wednesday aimed at keeping kids engaged, including pool parties and midnight basketball.

Though overall homicide and nonfatal shooting numbers have recessed so far this year, gun violence involving teenagers has trended in the opposite direction. Sixty-two high school-age kids in Baltimore have been shot since the start of the year, according to ongoing tracking by The Baltimore Banner based on data through May 20, accounting for nearly 20% of the gun violence victims in the city so far this year. By comparison, 13- to 18-year-olds made up about 12% of Baltimore’s shooting victims through the same period last year, and about 5% in 2021.

Summer break begins for Baltimore City Public School students on June 14 and lasts until Aug. 28.

Enforcement questions

Baltimore has had a youth curfew on the books for decades, but enforcement has wavered between mayoral administrations. The rule, set to go back into effect on Friday follows Scott’s commitment after an Inner Harbor shooting in April that the city would go “back to the old days” by reinstating curfew.

Beginning this weekend, the city will staff two late-night youth centers will be located at C.C. Jackson Recreation Center in Park Heights and at Councilwoman Rita R. Church Community Center in East Baltimore, with a total of around nine people working each site. The city will also operate four specially-marked transport vehicles, driven by school bus drivers, between the two locations, deploying them to monitor neighborhoods and deliver kids back.

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Though the curfew applies citywide, city staff members will also be based in three popular gathering locations in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Federal Hill to monitor for kids out after hours.

But just how successfully the city is able to bring kids into the fold remains to be seen. Officials said Wednesday that minors approached about violating the curfew will not be obligated to go to the youth centers. Only children who consent can be brought along.

“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,” Jackson said. “But I suspect that we’ll either see young people go home — because we plan on being pretty relentless — or getting into the vehicle.”

And staffers will not be asking residents for identification to verify their ages. Staffers will use their “best judgement,” Jackson said.

In cases where youth center staff members are not able to get into contact with a child’s parent or guardian before closing up for the night, Jackson said the city will solicit support from the Department of Social Services.

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At a City Council hearing on the curfew Wednesday night, members raised their own questions about how the policy is going to work, with some expressing concerns about whether the city has resources to maintain the approach and the effectiveness of curfews as a tool to prevent violence.

“I want this to work, but I still see these young people not obeying,” said Councilman Antonio Glover, who voiced skepticism that young Baltimore residents will voluntarily get into the city’s transport vehicles or go to rec centers for programmed activities.

Going to the rec centers isn’t what sounds fun to teenagers, Glover argued. “What’s fun to them is what’s going on in the streets.”

Law enforcement involvement

Though members of the Scott administration emphasized the importance of a lighter touch when it comes to enforcing the curfew, they also noted that Baltimore Police Department officers will still have a role in identifying kids out after hours and instructing them to go home.

An internal Baltimore Police Department memo outlining plans for curfew enforcement outlined the protocol officers are expected to follow if they encounter kids out after hours. The memo, which was provided to The Banner by the department, underscores that enforcement is not intended to spur “an unnecessary increase” in interactions between law enforcement and teens.

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While the enforcement plans laid out by Scott on Wednesday apply only to weekends and holidays, the Police Department memo, citing law already on city books, outlines officer response protocol for every night of the week through the summer. The city plans to evaluate results and whether the curfew should apply only to weekends and holidays or also to weeknights, the mayor’s office said.

The memo focuses on how officers should respond to groups of 10 or more young people who “appear to be under the age of 17″ in a public space after hours. Upon finding the group, the memo instructs officers to activate body cameras, alert their supervisors and call for support from the youth centers.

Officers are advised to make several announcements to groups of children informing them that they are not allowed to be out, though police themselves are not allowed to transport kids to the the late-night centers.

Heather Warnken, director of the University of Baltimore’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, lauded Scott’s administration for its efforts to limit police engagement with young people in its curfew plan. But the criminal justice researcher, who has pointed to the ineffectiveness of curfews in other cities, said she nonetheless sees some “red flags” in the city’s new strategy.

If Baltimore is seeking to reduce police involvement in noncriminal situations, “even in the best case scenario” the city’s curfew plan is likely to create unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and kids, especially Black children, Warnken said.

She added that there remain ambiguities about how enforcement is going to play out in practice and questioned why the Police Department needs to be involved in the first place.

adam.willis@thebaltimorebanner.com

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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