Baltimore toughens curfew law


An article in late editions of The Sun yesterday stated incorrectly action taken by the Baltimore City Council concerning a new curfew law Thursday night. The curfew was tentatively approved and is up for final passage at Monday's council meeting.

Also, the article should have said that the jail term for a second curfew violation is 60 days.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Hoping to protect Baltimore's youth from the ever-escalating violence in the streets, the City Council adopted a strict curfew yesterday that requires parents to keep their children inside at night or face tough fines.

The measure, though much less stringent than the initial proposal of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, would keep all teen-agers under the age of 17 off the streets after 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends.

Council members enacted the curfew, patterned after one in Dallas that withstood a U.S. Supreme Court challenge last month, to combat the drug-related violence that claims a growing number of children each year. The 19-member council unanimously approved the proposal after one member recited the number of children shot each year in gun battles on the streets.

"We're saying it's criminal to let our kids hang out late at night, especially when you consider some of the carnage on some of these street corners," said Councilman Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat.

As the council fell silent, Mr. O'Malley recited the mounting toll of children gunned down on city streets. In 1988, 179 children were shot and 26 killed, according to police. By 1992,the grim yearly statistics had climbed to 316 children shot and 41 killed.

The far-reaching legislation approved last night allows police officers to detain curfew violators at night at "juvenile holding centers," which will be set up in schools and recreational centers. It also subjects parents of curfew violators to fines of $50 for the first offense and up to $300 and/or six months in jail on the second offense.

"We've had more children shot after 11 o'clock in recent years than ever before," Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, a 4th District Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting.

More than a decade ago, the city created a curfew to try to ensure that children completed their homework and get enough rest for school. The law is intended to keep unsupervised minors under age 16 off the streets after 11 p.m. on school nights and midnight on weekends. But the ordinance is rarely enforced by the city'scrime-engulfed police force.

Council members said the latest version, which raises the curfew age from 16 to 17 but keeps the same hours, is tougher because parents are forced to take responsibility for their children. All too often, Councilman Bell said, a preteen is shot late at night.

The council's action came seven months after 10-year-old Tauris Johnson was gunned down Nov. 4 while tossing a football at dusk. A week after the killing, city leaders gathered at the corner of Regester and Oliver streets, where Tauris was shot, to condemn a society in which a child died playing at dusk.

Members of the council's African-American Coalition demanded immediate enactment of a nighttime curfew to save Baltimore's children. But City Solicitor Neal M. Janey recommended waiting until the Maryland Court of Appeals -- the state's highest court -- ruled on a juvenile curfew law in Frederick that a lower court had struck down.

In late May, the Supreme Court cleared the way for cities across the nation fighting crime to try to protect children by banning them from streets and public places late at night. The ruling on the Dallas ordinance prompted the Baltimore council to move ahead.

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