Top city leaders are supporting an effort to tighten Baltimore's curfew law that could require children younger than 14 to be off the street as early as 9 p.m.
Councilman Brandon M. Scott introduced legislation Monday that would abolish the city's midnight curfew for children and teens and instead set a staggered deadline for youths to be indoors based on their age and whether school's in session.
Scott called the current curfew — established nearly 20 years ago — absurd for failing to distinguish between an infant or teenager, and for allowing youths to stay outdoors so late.
"If their parent was out there with them, OK. But they're 8-year-olds, and there is no adult anywhere in sight," Scott said at 10:30 p.m. on a recent night as he watched a group of boys playing football in a street in Belair-Edison. The Northeast Baltimore neighborhood was a scene of violence this summer.
"Somebody could come up and snatch one of them and they'd be gone. Gone. And then what are we going to do? There are so many things that can happen to young kids who are out late without supervision."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said they support Scott's approach as a way to protect children. They said they hadn't seen his bill yet but pledged to work with him to toughen the curfew law.
"Anything we can do, any measure that we can investigate to keep our young people safer, I support," Rawlings-Blake said. "The councilman is a vigorous advocate for public safety, particularly when it comes to young people. I look forward to working with him and providing any assistance we can give through this process."
Batts said the rate of violent crimes goes up between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. in Baltimore and other cities. So, enforcing an earlier curfew is wise, he said.
"There is very rarely things open for kids at midnight," Batts said.
He said a curfew should be designed to allow youths to travel from one destination to another but stop them from hanging out near outlets where beer and liquor are sold.
And Young said a new curfew could make the city a safer place, if it is enforced.
"You're talking young kids who are out on street corners," he said. "With the level of violence we have in the city, with drive-by shootings, I am looking at it like a public safety measure," Young said.
Currently, all children and teens younger than 17 can stay out until 11 p.m. on weeknights and until midnight on weekends. Parents can be fined up to $300 if their children are caught outside after curfew.
Under Scott's proposed legislation, youngsters under 14 would have to be indoors by 9 p.m. Youths ages 14, 15 and 16 could stay out until 10 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. otherwise.
Police could issue fines of up to $500, but the penalty could be waived if parents and children attend counseling sessions already provided by the city, according to the proposal.
Some exemptions would be provided, including allowing youths to be out after the curfew if they're going to or from a job, religious event or school or recreational activity. Children wouldn't be punished for being immediately outside their homes or if they're with a parent.
The councilman said his goal is multi-faceted. In addition to trying to protect children from harm, he said enforcing an earlier curfew could be helpful in ensuring they go to school prepared to learn.
"The data tell us that if kids aren't sleeping properly, if they're tired in school, they're going to be less likely to succeed," he said. "We have to do what we need to do to get them home."
Scott said he was troubled by the boys playing football in Belair-Edison. The boys, ages 6 to 12, tossed the ball under the street lamps, sidestepping incoming traffic when someone issued the warning, "Watch out, car!"
On a nearby street in June, a man opened fire on a group on a porch in the 3300 block of Elmora Ave. Two women died and a third was injured. U.S. marshals arrested Darryl Martin Anderson in connection with the shooting that occurred about 9 p.m. June 27.
Scott said he doesn't anticipate the earlier curfew will cost the city money, though eventually he'd like to identify resources to allow the city's summertime curfew center to be open year-round.
Children and teens on the street after curfew are transported to the center, where their parents are called to pick them up. The center is also a place where families can be connected to services, Scott noted. When the center is closed in non-summer months, parents are issued citations.
This summer, 165 youths were transported to the curfew center, according to the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice. That's down from 505 in 2012. The reason for the drop wasn't immediately clear.