PAWTUCKET — There has been a curfew in place for the city's youth for 16 years, but do they know about it? Some who are involved with juveniles and teens say that more should be done to get the word out.
Since 1994, the city has had two ordinances on the books aimed at keeping youths off the streets during the late night or early morning hours. One calls for any juvenile under the age of 16 to be home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and the other requires that any juvenile 16 years of age or older and under the age of 18 to be home between midnight and 5 a.m.
Under both curfews, however, there are numerous exceptions, such as a juvenile who is accompanied by an adult, on an emergency errand, or out because of “reasonable, legitimate and specific business or activity.” This includes, for example, a youth walking home from a job, school event, or other such purpose.
According to past TIMES articles, the curfew came about due to outbreaks of youth violence that were occurring in the early 1990s. Pawtucket's curfew ordinances were approved by the City Council in 1994 after Councilor John J. Barry III said it was necessary “to stop unruly groups of youth from disturbing the elderly,” according to a previous article.
At the time, then-Central Falls Mayor Thomas A. Lazieh tried unsuccessfully to get the Central Falls City Council to pass a curfew ordinance. However, after a 2008 shooting that left two teenagers dead, Mayor Charles D. Moreau imposed a curfew that requires youth under the age of 18 to be off the streets between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. This is still in effect, according to the Central Falls Police Department.
Pawtucket's curfew was the first in the state. When it was passed, the American Civil Liberties Union had vowed to challenge it on Constitutional grounds. However, no challenge was ever filed because no one complained about it, according to a previous news account.
Since the curfew has been in place, Pawtucket Police say they have traditionally given a lot of leeway and discretion to officers in regard to the curfew issue. Pawtucket Police Major Arthur Martins said that while there are arrests on the teen curfew violation, most of the time there are other, more serious offenses involved, such as vandalism, burglary, robbery and other crimes that the youths are accused of.
Rarely, Martins said, do police officers cite a juvenile simply for being out past the curfew times. If they do, it would typically be for a juvenile who is out in the early morning hours. “We're not looking for the kid who is out at 10:30 p.m., or someone who is walking home from a job,” Martins said. It would be more if we saw a group of juveniles hanging out or loitering at 1 or 2 a.m., or who look like they are up to mischief. The officers have a lot of discretion on this,” he added.
Martins said that he believes the amount of arrests for teen curfew violations have been “fairly consistent” since the ordinances went into effect. The statistics for the past five years show 63 arrests for curfew violations in 2005, 64 in 2006, 84 in 2007, 60 in 2008, 36 in 2009 and 54 so far in 2010. Of these, he said he is not certain how many were straight curfew violations and how many were charges tacked on to other, more serious juvenile crimes.
Martins said that a first-time curfew offender would go before the city's Juvenile Hearing Board. The violation alone is considered a “status offense,” which means that the act in question would not be considered a crime if it were committee by an adult. However, as Martins pointed out, many of the curfew violations are often a secondary charge that accompanies a more serious crime.
Jack Ward, who is chairman of the city's Juvenile Hearing Board, said that recently, it seems that many of the youths coming before the board claim they were unaware of the curfew. He and the other board members would like to see the curfew ordinances publicized more by both the police and in the city schools.
“Back in 1994 when the curfew was put into place, it was well publicized,” said Ward. He noted, however, that many new families have moved into the city since then who might be unaware of the ordinance. “I think it would help to get the message out,” he said.
Ward acknowledged that the curfew violations that are given by police usually involve youths who are out in the early morning hours. He said that a common scenario the board sees involves sleepovers, where the youths sneak outside and the parents don't know about it. “Many times, the parents had no idea that their kids were out on the street,” he said. He added that he thinks the curfews function as “a good intervention” and brings the parents into the loop of what their children are doing.
“I don't think there is anything wrong with the current curfew, and there are a lot of exemptions to it. I also think the police use a lot of good judgment on this,” Ward said.
When asked if he thought most city residents are aware of the curfew, Martins said he thought so, because it has been in place for the past 15 years. He said, however, that beyond word of mouth and general knowledge, he is not sure how much actual effort has been made to get the word out to teens.
Pawtucket Police Lt. Tina Goncalves, who heads up the City's Community Police Unit, said she feels that the curfew ordinance should be something that is common knowledge for most city teens and their parents. She said it is discussed in basic terms as part of the Citizens Police Academy and as part of the Law Enforcement Academy at Tolman High School. She said that while it is not currently part of the formal curriculum of programs used by the School Resource Officers, it is a basic ordinance that has been on the city's books for a long time now. “It's a status offense. The purpose, really, is just to get them off the streets in the late night hours,” she said.
Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke said that notification about the teen curfews is not in the current edition of the student handbooks, but said she would be willing to add this the next time the guidebook is revised. She said she is willing to do whatever she can to get the word out to students.
During a sampling last Wednesday of a dozen or so students outside of Shea High School, slightly more than half said they knew of the curfew ordinances. Most who were aware of the ordinance said they were told of it by their parents or peers, while several others said they learned about it only because they were out past the 10 p.m. time and were notified of the curfew by a Pawtucket patrol officer. All of the youths who were told of the curfew by a police officer said they were just verbally warned and no one had been officially cited for the violation.
Dante Mann, 17, said he was aware of the city's curfew, both from his parents and from his friends. “And the cops tell you. If they see you out, they say, 'You've got to go home,” he said.
Britney DeBarros, 16, said that she, too, was aware of the curfew, but had never been personally affected by it. “I've been out pretty late, sometimes, but I've never been bothered.”
Adelina DeaFonseca, 17, said she knew of the curfew through various sources, friends, family, teachers. “I can't be out more than 11 p.m.,” she stated.
Andrew Wescott and Stacia King, both 14, said they had heard of the curfew and didn't really mind it. Wescott added, “I think its good idea for kids to be home after 7 p.m.”
Helder Andrade, 14, said he had been unaware of the curfew. Upon learning that it is 10 p.m. for those 16 and under, said he didn't think that was “too bad.”
Yadira Feliciano, 17, and Evander Gomes, 19, both said they didn't know the city had a curfew. Both, however, had heard about the 9 p.m. curfew in Central Falls.
Bryan Reyes, 14, said he hadn't heard about it until he learned the hard way: after a brush with the law that occurred at around 1 a.m. “They (the police) told me about it then..that I wasn't supposed to be out past 10 p.m.” he said.
Lataijza Mister, 14, said that her mother imposes her own curfew of 8 p.m. and she was personally unaware of the city's 10 p.m. limit. She called the city's curfew “stupid,” saying that a teen should be able to stay out later than 10 p.m. “as long as someone knows where you're going and what you're doing.”
DeShea Pantoja, 14, also said she had not heard there was a curfew but thinks it is “ridiculous.” “We're old enough to be making our own decisions. People should be given a chance,” she stated.