Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Teen Curfews (Governmental Not Parental)

I confess, I was not a teen who was out so much that a teen curfew would likely have impacted me outside of prom. I also don't remember one being in place in DC until I was outside the age where it would apply. However, it still bugs me, especially now that they are considering making it earlier.
In part, it concerns me because I think it is intentionally targeting a group simply because they cannot vote. I have seen no evidence that teens commit more crime or cause more problems than any other age group, and yet, when crime spikes in the summer, everyone seems to blame teens.
I also find it really hard to believe, that if teens really were responsible for such a large part of the summer crime wave, that they wouldn't be able to find away to commit all these crimes in daylight. I also fine the idea hilarious that a teenager who was thinking of committing a crime would turn to his or her friend and say, "Well, we'll have to do this tomorrow because the curfew starts soon."
In most cases, the various articles I scanned, most people in favor of the curfew seemed to be sure it worked because youth crime reduced. (We'll get back to that in a bit.)
Now first, studies have shown that perception of youth crime is incorrect. As this article points out, people often think teenagers are responsible for a larger percentage of crime because of media coverage. In fact media coverage of teens relates to crime more often than any other issue.
So far as I can tell (with my google powers) no one has ever proved that teen curfews help anything. (In fact, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice indicates that most studies show that youth offenses occur between 3 and 6 pm.) So, they simply serve the purpose of allowing the public to believe steps are being taken by marginalizing a potion of the non-voting population.
Also, and perhaps I am off-base here, but it seems like in a crime wave, perhaps police officers should be focused on other things rather than sending (or sentencing*) teens for being out late.
In fact, one study found that in the nineties**, the most common crime teens were arrested for was curfew violation - far in excess of any other crime. (Another study, found that counties with curfews had similar youth crime increases and decreases than those without. And, in fact - according to FBI statistics - youth crime has decreased at a higher rate than other crime when broken out by age.)
Now you might be asking, what's the harm? Well, there have been incidents (in other cities with curfews) where teens were harassed by police officers seeking to send them home. One incident that got a lot of airplay was the teen (who perhaps confused about why she was being arrested, considering she cries both for her mom and for help in the video) ended up pepper sprayed and punched by the arresting officer***. Now certainly she was in violation, and you could argue that she should simply have complied. However, I think the greater risk here is that now she, and one imagines her friend and a number of other teens who saw the video and heard the story, believe that police officers assume the worst about teens and will be more likely to arrest them than assist them. And that, I think, would be the real tragedy.

*Community service is the usual punishment, in many states. However, some require the teen(s) to be arrested and charged first.
**If it seems like most of my data is old, you're right. No one has studied this in the present decade.
***Also, the officer spotted her on his way to responding to a 911 call, so it certainly seems to help no one that he stopped to arrest her. However, to me, the issue is that it appears she was wandering the street because her grandmother had kicked her out. And then, she got arrested for being out.