In an attempt to curtail rising crime and violence, the Baltimore City Council voted on May 12 to implement a curfew requiring children under 14 to be indoors by 9 p.m., and those aged 16 and under to be in their homes by 10 p.m. Under the new law, if police or authorities catch a child or teen on the streets after those times, parents can be fined up to $500, as covered by Reuters.
The move represents a drastic attempt to try and reduce crime in the Baltimore area. The Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is expected to sign this bill into law, which would then take effect in July of 2014.
This law follows similar recently passed laws in Houston, Philadelphia and Miami. Other cities are also considering passing similar laws across the country, such as Indianapolis.
However, many legal scholars and activists are claiming the new law is not legally sound, including the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has sent a letter to the Baltimore City Council outlining their concern that the law violates the constitution and infringes on the rights of Baltimore’s youth.
According to the ACLU, the curfew should be viewed as a “carry your papers” kind of law, especially considering children and teens are now required to produce an ID, if questioned by authorities.
Other residents voiced support for the law considering the dramatic rise in crime. The law is being introduced following a troubling rise in homicide rates in Baltimore. According to Baltimore Police Department statistics, Baltimore has seen a 7.3 percent rise in murders in 2013 with 235 homicides compared to 219 in 2012.
Council members were also quick to defend the bill, noting that children and teens are often found on the streets past 1 a.m. In addition, many teens have been the victim of assaults and even murders. As a result, the new law can be seen as a way to protect the welfare of children and teens in Baltimore.
Curfew laws have a mixed history. In states like Wisconsin and California, similar laws were determined to be unconstitutional. A similar law was also passed in the city of Frederick, Maryland, but was also found unconstitutional by a judge, creating a murky legal area for the new Baltimore law.
The law also affects daytime curfew hours, setting them at 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, a time period when children are expected to be in school. This curfew previously had an exception that permitted children and teens to run an errand for their parents. Under the new law, this exception has also been eliminated.
However, even if the law were effective at keeping kids off the street, there are fears that it disproportionately targets people of color and may criminalize young people.
The Fraternal Order of Police has indicated their concern about the new law as well, pointing out that the curfew may be difficult to enforce due to the lack of clear guidelines and the stretched resources of the police department.
Parents may avoid a fine in some cases if they attend a city-supervised family-counseling course. Weekends will continue to serve as an exception to the rule, allowing those who are between 14 and 16 years old to stay out until 11p.m.
The law also upholds a number of current exemptions, such as when kids or teens are accompanied by an adult, attending a school or religious event, or traveling to or from a job.