In 1994, the Metropolitan Dade County Commission enacted into law an Ordinance entitled The Dade County Juvenile Curfew Ordinance.
The purpose of this ordinance is straightforward: the imposition of restrictions for juveniles under the age of 17 in terms of the nighttime hours in which they may wander about freely absent parental accompaniment.
The hours of operation of the Curfew are: Sunday through Thursday, 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday nights, midnight to 6:00 a.m.
Shortly after passage of the Ordinance, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed an injunction with the Circuit Court, petitioning removal of the Ordinance based upon Constitutional grounds. It argued that the Ordinance would illegally and unconstitutionally deprive a certain group (those aged under 17) of their rights.
A secondary issue was announced with even greater concern. The ACLU and other community members opined that the Ordinance would be utilized in a manner unfair to inner city youth, and therefore young blacks and Hispanics would be targeted disproportionately.
The Circuit Court found for the petitioners and imposed the injunction. The Dade County Attorney filed for an appeal with the Third District Court of Appeals (DCA). The Third DCA reversed the lower court decision and in effect reinstated the Ordinance.
A technicality arose insofar as the original passage of the Ordinance included a Sunset Clause. Consequently, the Ordinance had expired. Therefore, it was brought before the full Commission and was reinstated by a majority of the commissioners.
Generally the court stated that the Ordinance did not violate any of the appelle's rights under the Florida Constitution. The Court further referenced Griffin vs. State and reaffirmed that the well being of children is a subject within the State's Constitutional powers to regulate. Accordingly, under both the Florida and United States Constitutions, children, due to their special nature and vulnerabilities, do not enjoy the same quantum or quality of rights as adults.
The Police Department treated the issue neutrally and discussed only the operational aspects of the issue. The department would enforce the Ordinance and would not change its priorities.
In essence the department would enforce the Ordinance in addition to their normal duties. The startup date was determined to be January 1, 1996 at Midnight.
In order to understand the operational aspect of the ordinance, a brief description of the Metro-Dade Police Department (MDPD) is required.
It is a large decentralized organization with 2,700 sworn and 1,300 civilian employees. While there are 11 operational MDPD patrol districts throughout Dade County, the ordinance can be enforced by municipal police departments within their respective cities.
Although a number of variations on the theme can occur, a typical description of an officer enforcing the ordinance is illustrated below. Although fictitious, the actions described are accurate portrayals of the ordinance being enforced.
At 1:10 a.m., Wednesday morning, a complaint is received from an anonymous source that three or four juveniles are being noisy in a park. An officer discovers and detains the juveniles. He determines that two are IS years of age and that the other is 17 years old.
The 17-year-old is dismissed and the two 15-year-olds are patted down and transported to the nearest police station. A Juvenile Curfew Violation notice is completed for each and the officer attempts to contact the parents so they can pick up the juveniles. If a parent or guardian cannot be contacted, the officer is directed per the Ordinance to transport the juvenile to his residence and release him.
If the parents are located, they normally respond to the station and the juvenile is released to their custody. The juvenile is not under arrest, and no juvenile record exists.
After releasing the juvenile, the contact form is faxed to police headquarters for processing, cataloguing and data entry into a closed database program.
The Department's Legal Bureau has declared this database as being juvenile/confidential. Public records requests are not honored that deal with juveniles' names. Statistical information is however shared with inquiring sources.
The database serves several purposes. It assists the office in identifying the violators and maintaining contact with those who have violated the ordinance three or more times. It also permits the automated mailing of a certified letter to the parent/guardian of each juvenile ever detained.
The database to date catalogues 3,216 violations since the program started. The database also helps track the receipt by parents (or non-delivery) of the letter. These results are used to determine which cases require investigation.
An interesting twist is that while the child violates the ordinance, it is the parent who is held liable for the penalty. If a juvenile has violated the ordinance three times, the parent can be tried for violation of a County Ordinance, which is a criminal proceeding equivalent to a second degree misdemeanor in the State of Florida.
A concern of the State's Attorney Office was proving that the parents o guardians had knowledge of the viola tor's activities. Certified mail is used as it provides a paper trail of such notification. This may seem redundant, but neither the parent no guardian is required to sign anything at the police station.
An in-depth investigation must be conducted before asking the State Attorney's Office to prosecute.
First, when a juvenile has violated the ordinance three times, a case file is created. This includes copies of the three violation forms, a criminal background and history check and copies of the receipts for the certified mail that has been sent to the named or listed parent or guardian. A detective will create a police report to highlight the case activities up to that point. Like the database, these files are juvenile/confidential and are released only to the State Attorney's Office.
The detective will attempt to contact the parent or guardian by phone or by personal contact if no phone number is available. This step is very time consuming and labor intensive.
The detectives try to assess the living conditions and the specifics of each of the cases In some cases, they ask the State Attorney to proceed with a prosecution and in others they ask for referrals to the appropriate social agency. These assessments include factors such as stability of the home environment, parental attitude and effort and other factors that may become apparent.
Assuming that a referral is not the recommended course of action a prosecution will be initiated by the State. The parent or guardian is invited to come to the State Attorney's Office to discuss the matter. This invitation is often accepted and a fruitful discussion takes place. There is a certain degree of prodding of the parent to advise them that a criminal prosecution may be initiated
Ultimately the State decides if they will prosecute. If the parent or guardian ignores the request to discuss the matter, the State will issue a subpoena and file a case in misdemeanor court. If one or both of the parents are surly, unresponsive or recalcitrant, the Stat may also choose this option.
Some prosecutions have been initiated and guilty judgements have been rendered by the Trial Judge. The penal ties for the parent or guardian are iden tical to the penalties for a violation o a second degree misdemeanor. Th( parent can be fined and jail time is a possibility. So far no parent has beer jailed, however, several have been fined.
An item for consideration should be understood up front. When the totals for demographics are added, they will in some cases be greater than 100%. That is explained because the title hispanic will include both blacks and whites.
The Curfew as a Crime Prevention Tool
One of the aspects discussed by the proponents of the curfew was that it would reduce crime committed by juveniles. Information regarding crime trends indicates the following arrests of juveniles:
Analysis of the above data reveals that since the curfew has been in effect, juvenile arrests have gone down. However in the same period adult arrests have moved in both directions. The writer ventures the opinion that the Curfew has not decreased crimes committed by juveniles in Dade County. This opinion is based on several areas for consideration.
1. Crime committed by juveniles in Dade County and most communities in the United States occurs during the daylight hours. An effective truancy program will likely reduce crime by juveniles better than a curfew.
2. Crime is a multi-factorial social dilemma. It is not easily explained nor understood. While we can make some inferences, it is too complicated a phenomenon to conclude that the curfew in any large measure reduced Juvenile Crime in Dade County. A sufficient quantity of data or an instrument with proven reliability does not exists to make that a valid conclusion.
3. While this data shows the total number of arrests, it does not indicate at what time of day the arrests were made. That data is not available.
4. A number of unrelated proactive programs such as the Police Athletic League, DARE, Explorers, etc. probably have impacted this as well.
5. One cannot reliably assume a singular source to be the greatest indicator when it comes to describing crime. It is too complicated an issue and simple solutions are evasive.
While I cannot conclude that the curfew has reduced crime, I can make several observations regarding the curfew.
Many parents responding to the police stations have told the officers "...I thought my son or daughter was at..." The curfew has alerted some parents that their children may not have been truthful in describing their intended whereabouts. For a number of parents the curfew has been a "wake up call." This has made some significant impact to at least some of those violators and their parents.
One woman said she was glad the ccurfew went into effect because prior to it, she had no rational basis for explaining to her children why they needed to be inside at a certain hour.
Adolescence and puberty are stressful periods for even well adjusted children. Good kids occasionally do bad things, and it is easier to do such things when there are fewer people to see. The curfew almost certainly prevented some children from doing something they would have done had the police not interceded. Once a person is in the Criminal Justice System, it is historically true that a downward spiral occurs. Perhaps the curfew helped several from being in the system.
In 1996, 8% of the curfew violators were repeat offenders. Indications for 1997, are 16%. However, some of the repeat violators overlapped the two periods. I cannot conclude that the difference between the two years is significant, however, there is a relatively low level of "recidivism." In actual numbers, 2,878 juveniles have been detained for violating the curfew only once. This is approximately 90%.
A rhetorical question has been framed regarding the curfew: How harmful is it for school age children to be indoors especially during the week by 11:00 p.m. or midnight on weekends? The vast array of exemptions to the curfew have made this tool a very benign tool that does nothing to stigmatize the violator.
The curfew is a valid, proper and useful tool for the police, which probably has helped some parents identify some problems that have been brewing at the most difficult growth stage for many children.
Mark McGrath is a 24-year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department.…