Before the start of the next school year, Baltimore City youths will need to abide by a new curfew that calls for them to be off the street as early as 9 p.m. under legislation the City Council approved Monday.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who pledged to sign the bill into law, said the measure will keep the city's children and teens safe and identify families in need of intervention. The law won't take effect until about mid-August, a delay that's expected to give the administration time to open a year-round curfew center.
"I am not willing to gamble on the lives our of children," Rawlings-Blake said. "Let me be clear: This is not a criminal enforcement act by the police. Children will not entered into the criminal justice system for merely violating curfew.
"This is about taking them out of harm's way."
The controversial measure drew shouts — "boo!" and "no youth curfew!" — from inside the City Hall chamber as the council approved the measure without discussion in a 13-2 vote. Councilmen Carl Stokes and Warren Branch voted against the measure.
Meanwhile, about 25 protesters gathered outside to express concern that a stricter curfew will cause more young people to become entangled in the criminal justice system. Among them was Kimberly Ellis, who said the law doesn't help rebuild residents' trust in the police and "gives the impression that we don't know how to raise our kids."
Ellis, who along with her husband, Edward, and their 15-year-old son, James, said they have a lot of unanswered questions about the curfew.
"This is a law for people who don't have kids," Edward, 43, said. "If they have them, they don't want anyone taking their kids without telling [them]."
Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who sponsored the legislation, said he is cognizant of the concerns and wants to make sure that the intent of the stricter curfew — to "connect our most vulnerable children to services" — is carried out in the enforcement of the law.
Other local jurisdictions, including Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, don't have youth curfews. The city has had a curfew on the books for about 20 years, although it wasn't always enforced.
Under the new curfew, children under 14 must be indoors year-round by 9 p.m. Children 14 through 16 will be able to stay out until 10 on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends and over the summer.
Currently, all children and teens younger than 17 can stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.
The new law also will extend the daytime curfew hours from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. That daytime rules will restrict those under 16 from being in public places or stores during the hours when they should be in school.
Some exceptions will apply, including allowing young people to be out late if they are with a parent, or traveling home from work or going to a religious event or a recreational activity.
Some parents picking up their children from Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle School in Cherry Hill on Monday said they support the curfew.
"Look at the murder rate of the children, because it's definitely necessary," said Tia James, 32, who has three children. "I think parents should be held accountable."
The council delayed the new curfew for 60 days after the mayor signs the bill into law to give the administration more time to develop the year-round curfew center, which eventually will replace the Barclay neighborhood center that operates from June to August.
Eventually, the mayor wants to open nine centers in schools and recreation centers. The first center will open initially from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., but the hours will be expanded over time to run around the clock.
Much like the practice now, the youths will be brought to the center by police — they will not be arrested or handcuffed — and interviewed by officials.
Officials will contact the child's parent or guardian if they deem it's safe for him or her to go home. If not, the child would be placed in the care of Child Protective Services.
The parents or guardians would face a fine of $500, up from $300. But the fine could be waived if the family participates in counseling sessions provided by the city.
Councilman Brandon Scott said the fines police can issue for a curfew violation range from $30 to $500. Under the current law, Scott said the maximum fine is rarely issued.
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