Juvenile curfew a bad idea for Oakland

I wrote about Oakland’s proposed new juvenile curfew ordinance, which the Public Safety Committee will be discussing tonight (PDF), for Oakbook today.

The ordinance should be rejected, if for no other reason than the fact that there is no evidence that juvenile curfews are effective, either at reducing crime or at protecting minors from victimization. The staff report (PDF) on the item offers little in the way of evidence for the successful impacts of juvenile curfews, and instead relies on emotional appeal and questionable statistics to argue for adoption:

Had a curfew ordinance been in effect when these incidents occurred, there is a possibility that a life could have been saved or a young woman would be spared from the vices of the sex trade. This possibility alone, as well as the aforementioned successes from other cities, and the fact that 29% of juveniles are victims of violent crimes duing these hours, demonstrates a nexus between juveniles and violent crime and creates a compelling interest for the City of Oakland to implement a curfew ordinance.

First, let’s look at those other cities. Three examples of cities with curfew ordinances are given: Dallas, Denver, and Long Beach. Dallas offers the strongest support, with a claim that juvenile arrests during curfew hours during a three month period after the ordinance was adopted were 14.6% lower than during the same three month period the previous year. Without comparable data on the overall crime rate during the same periods, it’s impossible to form an opinion on how much the curfew had to do with the reduction, although it’s worth noting that the ordinance is still in effect, and juvenile crime rates in Dallas have been rising for the past six years. (The City is now considering adopting a daytime curfew (PDF) to combat the problem.) No crime or victimization data is provided for Denver. In the Long Beach example, a significant reduction in juvenile crime is noted for the period immediately after the adoption of the curfew ordinance in 1993, but I was unable to find any such claim in the cited source for the statistic (PDF). The report further notes a 22% reduction in juvenile victims of violent crimes during the summer of 2008 versus summer of 2007, but since the ordinance was in effect for both years, it isn’t clear what the reduction has to do with the curfew law.

There’s not a ton of research out there on the effectiveness of juvenile curfews, and most of it is stuck behind firewalls, so I unfortunately can’t link to it. I found one publicly available survey (PDF) that examines the available evidence. I’ve reviewed most of the studies referenced in the article, and the characterizations of their findings in this report are accurate. So what does the body of literature show? Well:

By and large, however, the research fails to demonstrate that curfews produce a decrease in juvenile crime. If one tallies all the relations between curfew laws and crime examined in these studies, researchers report no significant change in crime rates in roughly three out of four instances. When significant changes in crime rates are observed, about half the studies show increases while the other half show decreases.

Given the unpromising outcomes of curfew laws in other cities, and given that Oakland’s curfew enforcement is proposed as a special operation only once per month (for a cost of $75,000 for the year), it’s difficult to imagine how the new law would have even a minor impact on either juvenile crime or juvenile victimization. Of course, there’s another reason to institute youth curfews, that, while mentioned only in passing in tonight’s staff report, is almost certainly a strong motivator in the minds of those who would support the ordinance.

A curfew provides police officers with an additional tool during nighttime patrols. Under the proposed ordinance, officers would have a reason to question anyone they see on the street who looks young enough to be in violation. Theoretically, this questioning could lead to detecting some other crime. Although the literature on the effectiveness of curfews for such purposes is limited, what evidence we do have is again, not promising. Survey says:

In general, the available research indicates that curfew laws are not an efficient mechanism for uncovering criminal behavior. Furthermore, most of the criminal activity that is uncovered by curfew enforcement consists of minor offenses or curfew-related infractions.

So if curfews don’t reduce crime and they don’t reduce juvenile victimization and they don’t lead to detection of serious crimes, will the Council decide to pass on this one? I doubt it. Experience shows us that implementation and effectiveness are rarely major factors in political decision making in Oakland. As the aforementioned article notes, curfew laws enjoy widespread popularity among the public, and:

The seduction of commonsense reasoning sometimes is too strong to be swayed by scientific evidence, which by nature is always open to reconsideration.

I understand that it’s tempting to pass helpful-sounding legislation even if we don’t actually think it will, you know, help. After all, the Council and the Police Department are both under constant pressure to appear to be doing something to address the crime problem. It’s easy to look at something like a curfew law as harmless. After all, when something only costs $75,000, why not just do it for the sake of saying you did something, whether you think it’s going to work or not.

But it’s important to realize that there are additional, less measurable costs, to repeatedly adopting laws that are either not enforced, or selectively enforced. The existence and selective enforcement of such ordinances erodes respect for the law in general. In a City so rife with lawlessness as Oakland, it’s probably a good idea to at least try to avoid exacerbating the problem.

But more troubling is the fact that, as if we didn’t already know, recent events have reminded us that large numbers of Oakland youth are convinced that the police are simply out to get them. Whether that’s true or not, selective enforcement for minor infractions like curfew violation will tend to further strengthen this belief, increasing the already troublesome rift between law enforcement and much of Oakland’s juvenile population. And that’s something we really can’t afford.

26 thoughts on “Juvenile curfew a bad idea for Oakland

  1. Max Allstadt

    This does indeed seem like a pointless exercise. If we have no effective means of enforcement, all it will do is make kids see our police as ineffectual.

    About the only argument I can see for this is that Oaklands anti-truancy efforts wont keep kids from Alameda, Berkeley and Hayward out of our downtown. At the moment OUSD’s strategy appears to consist mainly of phone calls to parents of absentees.

    For 75k, which is admittedly not much, we could probably seriously beef up the phone outreach program.

    Or hey, why not fine parents $10 for their kids’ unexcused absences? That’d get some at home punishment in effect, right quick.

  2. Christopher

    When being out after dark is outlawed, then only outlaws will be out after dark.

    Punishing all teens is a good way to NOT get teens’ support in reporting *actual* criminals!

  3. Patrick

    Actually, we need to charge them more. Average per-pupil expenditure in Oakland last year was $8, 672, and the number of days open to pupils was 184. This works out to $47.13 per pupil per day. And, I believe the State reimburses districts on a pupil/day scheme, which means the district loses reimbursement for fixed costs as well.

    A curfew so reminds me of my childhood: “Parents – it’s 11 o’clock – do YOU know where your children are?” Trust me, those words (which followed an impressive sounding tone), run nightly by every television and radio station in the city in which I grew up did more to make me want to stay out past 11 than anything else. Of course, if you tried to skip school when I was a kid you had to hide out – otherwise, every adult you came in contact with would ask “why aren’t you in school?” As any kid would, I thought it was a pain, but I realize now it was actually the result of a community that cared.

  4. Becks

    I’m glad that youth came out to speak at the hearing, and the few comments I caught were well thought out and made a good case against the proposed ordinance. But then some of them just started screaming and interrupting Reid and Kernighan. Not helpful at all.

  5. Becks

    This went down – Kernighan, Nadel & Quan all opposed. Some highlights from the discussion:

    Kernighan – The Oakland PD did not kill Oscar Grant; the BART police did (this is what evoked the screaming). We need input from youth about how to solve crime problems. She did say that she might support some kind of curfew, especially if it was later (like midnight).

    Nadel – Oakland is a family, and some of our family members need our help. Nadel also called for input from youth on how to solve problems.

    Quan – The Oakland PD is not all bad and we shouldn’t assume they would abuse this law. There’s no one who’s done more to help sexually exploited minorities than I have. We’re not going to vote for this, but Reid might be able to get the votes before the full Council (was that really necessary to say?).

    Reid – Wasn’t intended to criminalize youth but to ensure young people could live in a safe environment. We have too many homicides, especially in the African American and Latino communities and we need to do something about this. Reid also called for help from the community to solve the crime problem. This ordinance will die in the committee.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    The outcome last night was surprising to me. Obviously, Nancy Nadel would never support a curfew, but I had kind of assumed Jean Quan and Pat Kernighan would support this one. Of course, it was pretty clear the curfew was not going to pass within a few minutes of public comment starting.

    I thought this was actually a really good discussion, and I liked the public comment quite a bit. (The yelling while the Council was trying to talk was unfortunate.) I’m going to write more about it, but my morning is full of meetings, so hopefully I’ll be able to get a post up this afternoon about it.

  7. Max Allstadt

    Knowing Nadel’s politics, it’s obvious that she wouldn’t support a curfew.

    That said, for practical purposes, a curfew makes much less sense in Districts 1, 2 and 4. District 1 has a small amount of troubled streets, but just a bit. In these low crime areas, all you accomplish with a vote for a curfew is to piss off upper middle class teenagers and liberal activists.

    In higher crime areas of the city, including large parts of Larry Reid’s district, a curfew makes practical sense. If a cop can stop youth in East Oakland after 10pm for essentially no reason other than looking young, anti-gang and anti-pimp activities become much much easier. The catch of course is that to do this, you basically create a police state for one segment of the population. Not OK.

    This is one of those rare cases where I think Nadel’s anti-authoritarian and racial justice leanings aren’t off the deep end. In addition to lots of evidence that curfews don’t work, we live in a city that has too much racial tension. In this climate, a curfew would probably make things worse by provoking more protests and more alienation of low-income youth. Let’s all be glad this was a non-starter.

  8. Valerio

    Having grown up in Oakland, I have to agree that a curfew will not curve the violence the city has experienced in the last few weeks. The idea, even though well intentioned, will result the opposite where youth would be antagonized when spotted in the streets at night, we do not know whether some work after school and get off work late. The reality is Oakland is a unique city were families, whether single parent, non-parent, or both, share responsibility of the household income. Let alone most on the flatlands are low income.

    The action is isolating a section of a city not just in a police state, rather isolating an area that is tabooed violent and “ghetto”. The presence of poilice whould hyphen the negative impact and scare investment in a region to further decay in neglect.

    Violence in Oakland raves from a violent culture that has risen in the city, either by lack of options or overly commercialized culture of instant gratification and violent downfall. If there is any choice to be tossed- it’s taking ownership to a positive atmosphere for youth, if our city government is worried, and the OUSD is worried ( even though it seems squabble is more their nature) investment by the community in re-lifting the vibrancy and facade surrounding school ground would have its impact, reforming curriculum that includes possible vias to vocational skills in high school where students coultd transfer to a community college, city grants in providng onsite tutoring in community halls and assuring youth they have options to succeed. Yet most importantly: giving youth reassurance that tey have the options, the maturity and decisive role in their lives to achieve.

    Our schools quality has been driven down over the years by watering down the curriculum and expectations – parents relieve their responsibilities of conduct and behavior on schools, when the sole obligation is to guide them toward higher education or certification of a vocational skill.

    I think what the city needs is a core revision of its goals, its visions of its community and more than anything leadership that reassures the significance and importance of its inhabitants in their the contribution to their home. Oakland is not the shadow of greatness but it’s sister.

  9. Patrick

    It is interesting to note that many of your suggestions for improvements to schools by the city were traditionally the province of parents…and then in the next paragraph you suggest that the quality of schools has gone down because parents are shifting their responsibilities to the schools…huh? When government is charged with not only educating children, but also providing them additional tutoring, hope, self-esteem and 2-3 hot meals a day, is it really any wonder our schools are failures?

    Perhaps curriculum changes are in order – but if vocational classes are introduced in one part of the city and not in another – can you imagine the outrage?

  10. Ralph

    Valerio, seems like you are calling for a time when parents were actually engaged in the lives of their offspring. It is shame that parents have abdicated responsibility, many problems could be solved if parents actually performed.

    We also need to get rid of this culture of violence, which comes both from Oakland’s past history and from the Raiders. I have never been one to advocate that a sport’s team change its name for pc reasons. I lived in DC when the the Bullets were renamed the Wizards. I still call them the Bullets but psychologically I wonder if the name change does not silently change the community.

    The dumbing down of education and vocational schools. Todays students simply aren’t bright. We just need to admit that the generation who is paying for our social security has no idea how to do simple subtraction. That being said, we need to get past the stigmas associated with vocational training and recognize that some students are not traditional 4 year college material. We need to find their motivation and tap into it. If vocational training taps into that curiousity that is innate to each of us then we have a chance to prevent the loss generation.

  11. Navigator

    Teenagers need structure. Teenagers have no business out on the streets at 11:00 PM on a school night unless they have a legitimate reason such as work. This tool would’ve helped parents keep their kids safe at home doing their homework instead of looking for excitement on the streets. The Oakland City Council didn’t have the fortitude to stand up to the intimidation of a few.

  12. Max Allstadt

    Even if I supported this idea, I would never have tried it right now. Horrible timing. You might get this through if you agendized it to pass within the last few weeks of the school year, when attention is elsewhere. You might have been able to do it before the Grant shooting. Now? Unfortunately when it’s most needed, it’s least politically viable.

    Perhaps there are other ways. If a cop sees someone under 18 out after 11pm on a school night, doesn’t that constitute a reasonable suspicion to stop and question?

    I’m not 18 anymore, so I don’t exactly know how hard it is to be 18 and wander around in the middle of the night. But really, an outright ban isn’t the only way to discourage a behaviour. There are subtler carrots and subtler sticks. But right now, what works and what’s cheap?

  13. Patrick

    It is an interesting conundrum. I understand that families may need the added financial support of a working teenager, but how can anyone succeed in school if your day is spent in school and your night is spent working? When do they do homework? I can’t imagine how such a schedule could lead to anything but academic failure/mediocrity for all but a few.

    I worked after I turned 15, but in the State I lived in during high school it was illegal for high school students to work later than 9pm. And, they could not schedule you for more than 10 hours in any two day period (16 on weekends, 30 total hours a week) to prevent them from working you to death. In retrospect, those laws put “kids first”. I’m not a fan of curfews, because I believe the welfare of children is primarily the responsibility of the parent, and at times the community. But, I grew up with parents that would have sold their body parts before they would have let me work on a school night after 11 pm. A curfew certainly sends the wrong signal, but allowing minors to work that late sends an even worse signal.

  14. Patrick

    $10,000 fine for allowing/scheduling a minor to work later than 10pm on a school night. How’s that for subtle?

  15. Ralph

    I can not think of one legitimate reason why a teenager should be roaming the streets past 11. Back when I was a kid, if the streets light were on, your butt had better be home.

    Not sure that walking while black (be honest this curfew will target more men of color) is probable cause to stop and detain, it does make you think that the parent’s need to be arrested and sterilized. If they can’t care for the ones they got, society needs to stop them before they have more.

  16. len raphael

    bad timing, yes, but ghetto and some upper class kids have such a low opinion of cops, couldn’t get any lower unless they started ambushing cops.

    would have to applied uniformly throughout the city. no profiling either.
    monitoring that could cost more than the program.

    am not so sure the stats sb determinative here. maybe the stats don’t show good results because those cities already have better managed and staffed police depts and any improvement was marginal?

    would want to hear more of Reid’s reasoning for the proposal. in public hearings he comes across as quirkly but intelligent. and wasn’t he the only councilmember on the ground during some of the recent Grant protests? I’d give his opinions much more weight than Pat K, J Q, or Nadel on this just because his district ears are closer to the killing fields on this.

    btw, what percentage of violent crimes are committed by people in that age bracket?

    -len raphael

  17. Ralph

    the curfew while it may prevent young people from being victims of crime fails to address the fact that there is a whole host of people older than 18 and less than 30 who commit a significant amount of crime in Oakland. further it does not address the unsupervised parolee.

    you need to pass a test to drive, but any dolt can have a child. there should be a test before people can reproduce

  18. Max Allstadt

    Reid wasn’t the only Councilmember out during the protests, but I think he was out latest and got closest to the mess.

    Ralph – for fucks sake, I know it’s a frustrating town, but when you’re offering solutions, why waste time with hyperbole and non-viable ideas?

  19. Oh Pleeze

    Observations/questions about this ordinance:
    1. Exception 7…”When a minor is attending an official school, religious, or other recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by the City of Oakland, a civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor;”
    Is the City of Oakland now assuming responsibility for sponsoring or permitting religious activities?
    Isn’t separation of church and state a fundamental First Amendment right? Does Oakland think that ‘municipality’ isn’t the same as ‘state’? Or did the City (yet again) forget to proofread the text?
    2. “Parents/guardians of youth who violate the curfew ordinance more than two (2) times … may be charged for a misdemeanor or an infraction violation” MAY BE CHARGED? After multiple violations? Wow! Can we change our parking ordinances so that they’ll match the discretionary criteria being applied to curfew? Just imagine: “This is only my second meter violation this year. I haven’t met my violation quota yet. Your honor, this parking ticket is invalid.”

    If breaking curfew is breaking the law, what are the penalties when the ordinance is violated? Leaving your car on the street too long, in the wrong place or without feeding the meter result in fines. Keeping your trash can on the sidewalk too long results in a fine of almost $1000. Littering and tagging result in fines or hours of community service–often cleaning up litter and graffiti. Leaving kids on the street after 10 results in free hot food, free recreation, free social services, free job training and free education for the offender… and the offender’s family. This sounds like a reward, a lot of rewards! It doesn’t sound like a penalty.

    It does sound as if our benighted council is heaping yet more work on an understaffed, unled police department whose funding they’ve essentially ripped off. Our same council then wants to funnel more tax dollars to unaudited (and unauditable) private social programs, rather than to our schools, our parks, our recreation centers, our libraries and our basic infrastructure (after all, kids can’t hang out on the sidewalk if there’s no sidewalk). Bottom line? Higher costs and no ROI.

    I grew up in a city with a curfew, and two police departments enforcing it. Every 15 year old knew how and where to circumvent the police or the curfew (carry a grocery list which includes MILK and BREAD, sit on somebody’s front step as if you belong there. Hide behind shrubbery/garbage cans/parked cars). Are curfew laws ineffective? You bet! Especially if a city’s 15 year olds routinely outwit the elected representatives who wrote the laws.

    Oh wait! Average Oakland 15 year old outwitting average Oakland councilmember…What was I thinking?

  20. annoyed

    I’ve said this before but I never thought I’d live to see the day middle class adults would argue against a curfew for underage youth. I live in an area where a lot of youth wander the streets at night. If parents don’t have the balls to set a curfew for their kids, then the city should. We will never know about child victmimization because I don’t know even know how you would collect that data. With so many young girls being forced into prostitution, it would seem that would be enough of a reason. Furthermore, I would support a daytime curfew also. Kids should be in school or at least off the streets. Nothing good happens to kids who hang out on the streets. Most adults don’t call the cops when they are victmiized by crime. It’s not a stretch to believe the ratio is even higher for youth, many of whom don’t trust the police anyway. And let’s not even talk about open air drug dealing that thrives on youth out on the streets all day and all night. Don’t forget the graffiti, the garbage, and the noise that accompanies youth hanging out at all hours.

    People say curfews criminalize kids. I say it forces parents to be responsible. Fine the parents. I don’t care how regressive it is. Once a parent has to pay real money for not being a responsible parent, I suspect they would learn how to manage their kids better.

    I could be cynical and say that people don’t give a damn because it’s not your children who are out loitering and strolling around. I’ll even bet that you don’t live where kids are walking up and down your street yanking on car doors, looking for an easy score. I will be generous and just assume you don’t know what you are talking about.

    I don’t need proof to know that kids should be at home and not in the streets. We live in a high crime city. It should be common sense. And puuuleeezzz don’t drag out the tired canard that kids who wander the street are (1) homeless and/or (2) have crack mamas. Some of them just come from families who don’t or won’t set boundaries for their kids. I see it all the time. Not every street kid is poor, or comes from a nighmare family. Some just have the misfortune of clueless parents. You know, the kind of folks who think it’s bad for the city to set a curfew for kids.

    The reason why we have so much anti social and criminal behavior in Oakand is because there are so many people who will line up to defend it. Things happen in Oakland because people know Oaklanders will put up with anything. Guilty middle class people drag race and class into it. Look how long it took to clean up cruising by the Lake. Look at the apologists for the side show. People come to Oakalnd from all over the Bay Area and Central Valley to do crazy stuff because they know folks like you will put up with it. Or as a cop once said, folks in the hills. Spare me your guilt. People deserve to live in a safe environment, especially youth. We have no standards in Oakland. None. This is like the morons who have decided that criminals commit crime because they are desperate. Horse manure.

  21. annoyed

    And see Bob Gammon’s article today in the EBX about how progressives and liberals need to get over their issues with the police.

    One more thing. People have posted here about how they got around curfews. That doesn’t say much about your parents, does it? In the olden days when I was young, the persons you were most fearful of was your parents or the neighbors who would squeal on you. If the police ever got involved you were TOAST at home. Parents knew where you were and who you were with.

    By the way, I am black and my name is Margurite Fuller. I am fed up with the so-called progressive agenda that assumes we all hate the police. Many people of color live in neighbhorhoods where we would welcome more cops and more aggressive enforcement of quality of life crimes. It isn’t creating a police state. It’s called holding people responsible for anti social behavior that has a negative impact on qualty of life. People of color who live in the flats, white folks who live in the flats, are all just as entitled to a good quality of life as folks living in fancy condos and in upscale parts of town. Having youth wandering around at night is not only an issue of their personal safety and well-being, it is also a quality of life issue for people living in those neighborhoods.

    I support what Larry Reid is trying to do but as ususal, someone else always knows what’s best for “those people.”

  22. Max Allstadt

    Another thing that might help curb truancy:

    within a certain radius of schools, put up signs that say what hours school is in session, and post a phone number to report suspected truants. In a town with slim resources, we should create every possible opportunity for citizens to help keep things in line.