Baltimore’s broad curfew policy prevents those under 16 from spending time in any public place or establishment between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on school days.
The policy stems from legislation passed in 2014 that was sponsored by Mayor Brandon Scott, then a City Council member, and extended the hours of the daytime curfew.
The changes approved in 2014 brought overall stricter curfews for minors, requiring those under 14 to be off the streets as early as 9 p.m. The mayor at the time, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the changes were to keep the city’s children and teens safe and identify families in need of intervention, according to past Baltimore Sun reporting.
“At the time, our curfew laws were unclear and — for the most part — unenforced,” Scott’s office said in an email Thursday. “While Council Bill 13-0261 expanded curfew hours and removed exemptions, it also eliminated the practice of taking minors to juvenile holding facilities, allowed the stay of citations if individuals sought support services and removed imprisonment as a potential punishment for curfew offenses.”
The office noted that while curfews have become more enforceable, “the issue at-large still remains.”
David Jaros, professor of law at the University of Baltimore and faculty director of the university’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform, said studies on curfews suggest they are not an effective way to promote public safety.
The measure met opposition from protestors in 2014 and ACLU Maryland.
“The ACLU of Maryland opposes curfews because they create unnecessary police interactions, they criminalize the innocent behavior of children, particularly Black children who are often targeted for curfew enforcement, and they are fundamentally ineffective,” the organization said in an emailed statement.
While curfews may not reduce crime or violence, they can raise legal questions, Jaros said.
“I think it raises the specter of all kinds of constitutional concerns, of people being stopped, and having the police demanding them prove that they’re of age,” Jaros said.
Baltimore’s law department said it was unaware of any recent legal challenges to its curfew.
“The City is always committed to equitable and constitutional enforcement of all of the City’s laws,” the department said in an email.
A business operator found guilty of violating curfew by allowing minors to remain on their premises can be fined up to $500 for each violation. Council member Kristerfer Burnett wants those fines to be raised, establishing a $1,000 floor. Burnett introduced a bill on the matter Monday. Scott and the Baltimore Police Department both support the measure.
The same policy states that it is “unlawful for the parent of any minor to knowingly permit or, by insufficient control, to allow that minor” to violate curfew. Parents can be fined $50 for a first offense, which can be waived if the parent agrees to attend family counseling. A parent found guilty a second time can be fined up to $500 and given community service.
Minors are excused from the curfew if they have written proof from school authorities excusing their absence, are accompanied by a parent or a person 21 or older or they are traveling to and from school.
The daytime curfew has resurfaced since last week’s shooting at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center, when a 16-year-old boy died and four of his Edmondson-Westside High School classmates were shot. At the shopping center is a Popeyes, a popular spot for local high schoolers. City and school officials said they’ve repeatedly asked the business not to sell food to students during school hours, but their requests are ignored, according to past Sun reporting.
“We closely work with local officials and respect their wishes to not serve students during the school day,” a Popeyes spokesperson said in an email.
Burnett said the conversation surrounding the curfew’s ineffectiveness predates the Edmondson shooting, but officials have not gotten adequate partnership with local businesses. Additionally, the victims in that shooting were all over 16 and would not be covered under the curfew.
“My office has done direct outreach and placed signage in the businesses asking them, you know, informing them of what the current law is, and what the penalties were, and asking them to not serve. Like we had direct conversations with operators,” Burnett said. “I feel like we’ve done all that we can to communicate why this is an issue.”
Scott’s office said in addition to Edmondson Village Shopping Center, curfew signage is posted at Mondawmin Mall and other areas of the city. Enforcement is “generally concentrated in areas with close proximity to schools.”
Burnett said businesses can verify ages the same way they check IDs to sell alcohol or cigarettes.
When asked about those who may be over 16 but don’t have an ID, Burnett said that’s a “legitimate concern” that could be discussed but already would be an issue under the current policy’s enforcement measures.
Scott’s office said if a minor only has school ID, they should be denied service during curfew hours.
Jaros said lack of ID can “absolutely” be a problem that could raise due process issues.
“It’s been shown time and again to be applied in a way that treats minorities or people of color differently and has led to the kind of problems with policing and distrust of the police that has undermined public safety efforts,” Jaros said. “So rather than promote public safety, I think this exacerbates the problems that Baltimore is currently grappling with.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott's job in 2014. He served on the City Council. The Sun regrets the error.