Children, do you know where your parents are?
That is the question police will be asking tonight at 11 when Baltimore's tough new curfew law begins its second night.
Technically, the curfew went into effect last night after the bill was signed, but police had no enforcement mechanism in place. Tonight, officers will be out looking for 12- and 13-year-old violators and will gradually enforce the law more aggressively, city officials said today. Children and their parents also will learn about the curfew from city school officials after classes begin in the fall, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said.
Aimed at protecting the city's unsupervised youths from street violence that frequently occurs at night, the curfew calls for children 17 and younger to be off the streets by 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Saturday and Sunday.
After Mayor Schmoke signed the law at 9:30 last night, the curfew went into effect, although police reported there were no incidents, said Sabrina Tapp-Harper, police spokeswoman.
The curfew, approved by the City Council in June, allows police to take violators back to their homes or to special holding facilities in city schools or recreation centers. Parents or guardians can be fined $50 for the first offense and given up to a $300 fine and/or 60 days in jail for subsequent violations.
After letting the bill sit unsigned for almost a month, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke activated the curfew last night after he returned from a vacation. He signed the bill amid criticism from City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who chided the mayor for the lack of a curfew just after a 16-year-old was fatally shot at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Today, Mr. Schmoke and police Commissioner Thomas Frazier held a news conference to preview the new law.
Mr. Schmoke cautioned that the new curfew will be enforced selectively so that it will not become a tool of harassment toward young people. The mayor said he expects a challenge to the curfew from the American Civil Liberties Union. "What I don't want with this law is to create bigger problems for us by trying to solve the narrow problems of young people who are victims or who are victimizing others," the mayor said.
Mr. Frazier said police will attend training sessions beginning this week on how to enforce the curfew. The chief expects a full crackdown on the new law to begin in seven days, but has said he will leave enforcement decisions up to the district commanders.
Mr. Schmoke said local businesses that attract young crowds will also be targeted and held accountable under the new curfew and an existing daytime curfew for youths ages 6 through 16 between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
"If we do a handful of prosecutions of businesses that allow young people to hang out during the day in knowing violation of the curfew law, that will send a signal to others," Mr. Schmoke said.