Salisbury to look again at juvenile curfew measure

Following another discussion about implementing a city curfew, Salisbury City Council members Monday asked the police chief to work on revisions and plan for public input, then return at a future meeting.

The city has been using Baltimore’s curfew as a model, but officials determined sections of it won’t work well in Salisbury, such as starting the curfew too early, at 9 p.m.

There was uneasiness among council members about Salisbury not having a juvenile detention building to hold youth picked up by police, if they disobey curfew. Police Chief Barbara Duncan said that, because there is no such building, an officer would wait with a  teen until a parent arrived, or see that the child got home safely.

Councilwoman Shanie Shields referred to a letter from the ACLU that was sent to Baltimore’s mayor, asking that the curfew there be lifted because it abolishes citizens’ right to “walk freely in public without police interference.”

Shields said parents could misconstrue a local curfew as the city trying to control their right to raise children as they choose. “But some parents can’t control their children,” she said.

Agreeing, Day said the ACLU letter misses the point because it states a curfew could violate children’s right to freedom of movement.

“The point is, these parents are not able to control the upbringing of their children, with or without these laws. It’s freedom of movement that has led to juvenile crime. And, it’s parents and neighbors that are asking for this curfew,” Day said.

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell said since the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to assemble, a teenager might tell a police officer he isn’t breaking the law, but simply assembling with friends. She asked Duncan what the police response would be.

Duncan said the teen would be told there is a city process to plan public assemblies. The officer would than ask the purpose of the assembly that caused the juvenile to break curfew.

Shields said she wants to be certain minority children aren’t unfairly targeted by a curfew and that “we’re doing  the right thing legally.”

“Maybe a teen is walking home from working late at McDonalds and he gets picked up. That wouldn’t be right,” she said.

Duncan agreed. “Certainly we don’t want to run down the wrong path,” she said.

Concerning the proposed curfew beginning too early, at 9 p.m., Duncan said the time was taken from Baltimore City’s curfew, used by Salisbury as an example, and that revisions can be made.

“Our more difficult crimes and times when officers are confronting these kids is after 10 o’clock at night, after 11 o’clock at night,” Duncan said. Often, incidents occur later than midnight.

Councilman Jack Heath, participating in the Monday afternoon work session by telephone, suggested a trial period for a curfew. Duncan said that’s possible “to see if it’s making an impact.”

Day said he has concerns, as does every council member, and called the matter “complicated.”

Shields called for a meeting to allow Salisbury residents to share thoughts.

Duncan said she will propose ways to gauge public sentiment at an upcoming meeting. Day liked that idea and told Duncan, “Your community meetings that you have organized and led have had better turnout than a lot of community meetings have.”

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