A proposed youth curfew in Montgomery County would not apply to all juveniles, a police official said Thursday, leading some County Council members to question whether minority youths would be targeted.
Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman told a council committee Thursday that if the law is enacted it will be used on a case-by-case basis.
“An officer’s attention is not going to be diverted to the individual who leaves a movie theater and goes to Fuddruckers [for a soda],” he said. “The officer’s attention won’t be directed to that sort of behavior.”
That interpretation, however, raised concerns from some council members, who said it could lead to the singling out of minority youths.
“Will it be the African-American kids or the Latino kids who will be continually targeted?” Councilwoman Nancy M. Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring asked.
Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the county is in the early stages of a migration of families from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery’s suburbs — leading to a shift in the type of youth violence police are witnessing on the streets.
“These are kids who are from rough neighborhoods,” she said. “These kids are very street-savvy. They are different than what we were used to in the past.”
Jerman said a curfew would be applied fairly and that officers are not engaged in profiling.
The curfew, proposed by Executive Isiah Leggett (D), would prohibit children younger than 18 from being in public places between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and past midnight on Friday and Saturday. Youths would be allowed to break curfew if accompanied by a parent or guardian; on an errand at the direction of their parents; commuting to and from work; attending school or religious functions; or returning home from movies or concerts.
Leggett said a curfew is needed to enable police to break up large groups of potentially dangerous youths and keep the county safe. He released data this week showing that while crime overall is down, juvenile arrests make up an increasing percentage of overall arrests.
A council committee is expected to discuss the issue again in October, and county spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield said he expects debate on the issue to last months.
“The more that we have our children off the street and in their homes is better for our child welfare,” said Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, who said he supports a curfew. “We’re targeting the good kids who might make bad decisions.”
However, some council members asked whether police already have the ability to send kids home under existing laws, such as those that prohibit disturbing the peace.
Kathleen Boucher, an assistant chief administrative officer in Montgomery, said the state’s attorney’s opinion is that such actions are not covered under existing law.
Council Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac also questioned whether the council could amend an existing law that allows Leggett to establish a curfew for county residents during emergencies, such as extreme weather.
Boucher said Leggett’s preference is for the council to adopt the law, but he would use the authority if it is granted.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, the council’s leading opponent of the law, said it appears to be a back-door way to prohibit large groups of youths from loitering. Leggett has used an incident in Silver Spring this summer in which about 70 youths and adults gathered and committed crimes as justification for a curfew.
Ervin said the issue of youth crime and gangs extends beyond Silver Spring.
“Anybody who pretends this is a Silver Spring problem better get out a map and see where these incidents are occurring,” she said.
In another case that Leggett says would have been alleviated by a curfew, a mob of dozens of youths and adults robbed a Germantown 7-Eleven.
Andrews, however, said he is researching alternatives to a curfew that would prohibit loitering.
He also questioned whether selective enforcement of the law could open up the county to lawsuits.
Lacefield said he was not aware of any legal action taken in Prince George’s County or in the District of Columbia, which have youth curfew laws in place.
Boucher said Leggett expects most youths will comply with a curfew.
“For those who don’t comply, they will be asked to go home,” she said. “If [they do] not, they will be issued a citation.”
Under Montgomery’s proposed law, youths could only break curfew by disobeying an officer’s request that they go home at night, Jerman said. Those who disobey could be subject to civil citations and face fines of up to $150.
“What I really don’t want actually is a lot of citations and a lot of our officers tied up in court on curfew citations,” said Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park.