Saying Baltimore needs more than a curfew to keep restless youths off the streets, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke pledged yesterday to direct money from an emergency fund to keep the city's recreation centers and pools open later at night.
Mr. Schmoke, who has made it clear that he is not a big curfew fan, said the city would be better off providing nighttime recreation programs for young people as an alternative to hanging out on the often-dangerous streets.
"I certainly don't condone young people being unsupervised and just roaming about the city, but I also understand we've got to do more than just look at a curfew," Mr. Schmoke said.
"People should understand that there are many reasons besides looking for trouble that young people are out on the streets," he said, noting that many children live in cramped rowhouses without air conditioning.
The nighttime recreation programs, scheduled to go into effect late next week, will be financed from a $1 million contingency fund. Mr. Schmoke said that he was unsure how much the plan, which is still being developed, will cost. But he estimated it will be several hundred thousand dollars.
The mayor's announcement came as the City Council was resolving constitutional concerns to clear the way for reinstating a nighttime curfew for juveniles.
Last Friday, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier suspended the year-old law after the state's highest court struck down an almost identical curfew in Frederick. Baltimore's curfew prohibited youths under age 17 from being outside after 11 p.m. weeknights and midnight weekends.
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who is opposing the mayor in September's Democratic primary, supported his plan for late-night recreation programs but argued that a curfew must be reinstated to protect youths and to shield communities from youthful violence.
"Last weekend, there were more than 10 young people shot on the streets of Baltimore, at least three of whom would have been covered by a curfew," she said. "The young people are at risk, and the communities are at risk."
Mrs. Clarke is summoning the council today to its second emergency session of the week so that it can vote on a proposed revision of the curfew law. Two pages of amendments -- patterned after revisions to the Frederick law and a Dallas curfew that the Supreme Court let stand -- have been drafted to clear up the vague exceptions for youths.
Fifteen of the council's 19 votes are needed to adopt the revised law in one session. Mrs. Clarke has pledged that if she fails to line up the necessary votes, she will call the council back from summer recess again Monday for a final vote.
At a public hearing last night, about 30 people lined up to speak, mostly in favor of the curfew bill. But there was some strong opposition.
"I oppose this bill because it's racist from my standpoint," shouted Larry Brown Sr., of Reservoir Hill. "You don't go to Guilford with this."
Georgine Edgerton, of the Mount Holly Improvement Association, argued that the bill has to be as strong as possible. "This is to protect our children," she said.
Mr. Schmoke said that even if the council approves a new curfew, it will not be enforced immediately. Mr. Schmoke said he would sign the bill into law only if it passed constitutional muster based on a review by the city Law Department.
"I'm not anti-curfew, but I just think that often people view that as a panacea, and it's not. We ought to do something constructive with our young people as well as investigating a curfew law," he said at his weekly news briefing.
Marlyn J. Perritt, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, is devising a plan to keep some of the city's 69 recreation centers and the five largest pools open as late as 10 p.m. As part of the plan, the city also would expand its late-night basketball programs.
Baltimore's 69 recreation centers are usually open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. during the school year and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer, said Alma Bell, a spokeswoman for the recreation department.
The city has 23 neighborhood pools, but the recreation department is considering nighttime hours only for the five largest ones, at Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park, Clifton Park, Riverside Park and Cherry Hill. Pools are open seven days a week, from noon to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
Two decades ago, Baltimore had 111 recreation centers and ran programs at 30 playgrounds, but after years of closings because of federal cutbacks, that number has declined to 69 centers.
Mr. Schmoke's promise of nighttime recreation programs was welcomed by city officials, community leaders and police officers.
Maj. Bert Shirey, commander of the Northeastern District, said he would support the proposal as long as there was enough money to pay the off-duty officers who work as security guards at the pools. It was in his district that a 19-year-old was fatally shot June 19 in the pavilion of the Clifton Park pool while about 200 children and adults were splashing in the water.
Extra police patrols have stepped up security in the area since then.
"Anything that keeps the kids off the street I agree with," Major Shirey said. "They can stay open all night, I don't care. Children need things to do at night."
Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents East Baltimore's 2nd District and has questioned the premise of a nighttime curfew, agreed.
"It certainly would be a great help," he said. "We can't protect people just by telling all of them to get off the streets and into the houses."