CENTRAL FALLS — The City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to repeal the city’s juvenile curfew ordinance, removing the law which has been on the books in the city for more than a decade.
Prior to the council’s vote, Central Falls Police Chief Col. James J. Mendonca informed the panel that “if there were a time to repeal the curfew ordinance, that time would be now,” citing a series of community-based policing endeavors which have resulted in a significant reduction in violent crime. These recent endeavors, Mendonca said, resulted in a 16 percent reduction in violent crime in 2016, followed by a 22 percent reduction in 2017 to the lowest recorded numbers in the city in more than 15 years.
Since its inception in June 2008, the original purpose of the curfew ordinance has been to “prevent juvenile crime and to protect youths from victimization,” Mendonca told the council. “The curfew had intended to being used in aiding and protecting non-delinquent youth from crime, and to deny delinquent youth the opportunity to engage in criminal behavior.”
But the Police Department has since implemented policies and strategies as alternatives to the curfew, Mendonca said, which have “applied resources with the aim to reduce crime and the fear of crime by improving relationships, increasing community engagement, and fostering cooperation.”
“It is my belief from my experience as police chief that police interaction with our youth has also been key in reversing the current wide-spread animosity and mistrust toward law enforcement,” the police chief said. “Our interactions have had a cascading effect. The youth go back home and tell their families about the positive experience and interactions with police and they’ve essentially become advocates that have been as effective, if not more so, than graduates from our citizens’ police academy.”
“Any law enforcement executive would be reluctant to relinquish any implement to provide safety to the public,” Mendonca said. However, he noted that Central Falls Police have issued only one violation for breaking the juvenile curfew since 2015. “There would be, as a result, no valid argument to sustain this continuation,” the police chief said.
Pressure to repeal the ordinance had been applied by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the Central Falls-based Progreso Latino, as the pair last November urged Mayor James A. Diossa and the council to repeal the ordinance, arguing that curfews don’t reduce crime and may undermine public safety.
Central Falls’ juvenile curfew ordinance prohibited anyone under the age of 18 and unaccompanied by an adult to be out between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Juveniles found in violation of the ordinance were to be first issued a written warning by police and turned over to the custody of their parents. For the first offense by the parent, the fine was $100, and for each subsequent offense, the fine was to increase by an additional $100.
The ACLU of Rhode Island and Progreso Latino on Tuesday lauded the council’s unanimous vote in a joint statement.
“The ACLU of RI applauds the Central Falls City Council for repealing this ineffective and counterproductive ordinance,” the ACLU’s statement read. “The evidence is clear that youth curfews don’t reduce crime, and may actually undermine public safety. Furthermore, the ordinances make perfectly innocent activity – walking outside at night – illegal, and disproportionately affect youth of color. We commend the council for taking the evidence-based, principled approach here and finally repealing this ordinance.”
Progreso Latino’s statement echoed the sentiment, stating: “Progreso Latino would like to commend the Central Falls City Council for getting rid of the juvenile curfew that criminalized youth for being outside and further exposed them to possible police harassment.”
The vote to repeal the ordinance was introduced by Ward 5 Councilor Jessica Vega and Ward 1 Councilor Jonathon Acosta.
Since the curfew’s implementation in 2008, the city has “made significant improvements in our police-community relations through the creation of a community policing unit, the hiring of more diverse officers, the staffing of school resource officers and greater outreach and after-school opportunities for our youth,” the ordinance repeal states.
Mayor James A. Diossa said that in his seven years as mayor, he never once has had to resort to the curfew. He further noted that when he first ran for City Council, he was “vocal about abolishing the curfew.”
“During these seven years, this city and Police Department has been very proactive in building relationships because we know how much this will facilitate our engagement with teenagers and families across the city,” Diossa said. “I think the information available has shown that violent crime has been down 30 percent in the last two years, having police officers in our schools gives the opportunity for engagement of students and building relationships that go beyond the school building, and ever since I became mayor – having our police chief really push the community policing ideals into our department, which have allowed for a community policing unit to be created – the engagement has been invaluable to what we’ve seen with kids being more active and engaging with our police department.”
“That is why we never had to use the curfew and I think that nothing will change … It was to us much more of a no-brainer and clear that nothing’s going to change because this is no longer in the books,” the mayor added.
Ward 2 Councilor and former Council President Robert Ferri on Tuesday morning reiterated his long-standing opposition to the juvenile curfew, saying it has brought with it a “stigma” that’s hung over the city since its inception.
“You bump into people and they say ‘What’s going on?’ I say ‘Nothing!’ It is a bad stigma,” Ferri said of the ordinance.
“The colonel spoke very well, talking about the current relationship with the Police Department and kids of the community and parents. He felt that it’s working, in that they haven’t had that many problems with enforcing the curfew, and that carried a lot of weight,” Ferri said. “I didn’t see the problems that we have enforcing the curfew. I’ve always been against the curfew.”
“I never liked the curfew and I believe at this point we’ve done the right thing...” he said of the vote. “I felt confident if we got rid of the curfew it’s not going to hurt the city and I’m very happy the colonel spoke and he’s correct, the interaction between the police and community has really improved over the last few years.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette