More Teen Curfews Imposed; Some Cops Say a Waste of Time

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By Joe Volz

More cities are imposing curfews on teenagers but just how successful they are remains a topic of intense debate .

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that 276 cities, of 347 responding to the survey, have a night-time curfew. That is an increase over the 1995 figures when 270 of 387 cities had a curfew.

Half of the cities have had a curfew for at least 10 years and officials in half of those cities say juvenile crime has dropped. Another 11 percent say the curfew hasn't made any difference and 10 percent report a rise in crime.

Many of the officials who have curfews believed they are a good use of police time but others thnk that enforcing curfews is a waste of time. Tulsa and Charlotte officials say curfews stop teens from getting in trouble. But officials in Freeport, Ill. say curfews turn police into babysitters. And Richmond, Calif. officials say curfews treat all youths as if they were delinquents, giving law enforcement a bad image.

The first documented curfews were in 1890 at a time of mass immigration and were used to contain aliens. Up to 3,000 towns and cities had curfews by the end of the century. There is no record of how effective they were.

In the 1940s, there were concerns about youth left unsupervised by parents in war work. In the 1950s, there was a new fear - teenage rebels. So curfews remained in many cities.

William Rufall of the University of South Alabama, who has studied youth curfews extensively, says todays's concerns center on youth violence.

"In the past you weren't worried about young people shooting each other," he says.

The National Crime Prevention Council says homicide is the second leading cause of death for persons 15 to 24 and the leading cause of death for African-American and Hispanic youth in this age group. The homicide rate among males 15 to 24 is 10 times higher than in Canada.

President Clinton has ordered Attorney General Janet Reno and Education Secretary Richard Riley to produce for the first time an annual report card on school violence. Details are not worked out yet, but it will contain data to develop violence prevention programs.

Clinton said in a proclamation last November that "government alone cannot guarantee our children will grow up free from violence and fear. Parents, teachers, religious and community leaders, businesses, youth organizations and especially young people, themselves, have a vital part to play."