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Council nixes daytime juvenile curfew, extends late-night curfew through summer

Friday, June 16, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

City Council Thursday decided to nix the city’s 27-year-old daytime juvenile curfew, extending instead the city’s nighttime curfew for young people until Oct. 1. At that time, members expect to have a report back on alternatives to a criminal curfew and will consider the late-night curfew again. Most Council members appeared ready to decriminalize the curfew at that time.

Council also loosened the continuing curfew, asking the Austin Police Department to enact a policy of issuing two warnings before citing a student.

Council Member Greg Casar rallied hard for that outcome immediately and expressed his disappointment in a statement Thursday night: “It is irresponsible for our City to continue authorizing our police to arrest teenagers without any probable cause of a crime, other than being young and out in public.”

Council members heard roughly an hour of testimony on the topic. Speakers testified overwhelmingly in support of doing away with the city’s tradition of allowing police to issue Class C misdemeanors to minors on the street during school hours or between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Several students testified, including one young man with Youth Rise Texas who described how his friend was cited with a curfew violation for going to the store late at night. Struggling to understand why this happened to his friend, the young man asked Council members: “What the fu** is this sh**?”

Morgan Craven, with the social justice advocacy group Texas Appleseed, also expressed her disbelief about this ordinance still being in place.

“Funneling young families into the justice system hurts them, period,” she told Council. “This ordinance puts kids into adult criminal courts and exposes them to the harms of that process. And we know from research that a single court appearance can increase the likelihood that a student will drop out of school.”

According to representatives from the municipal court system who testified, 95 percent of these curfew cases do not lead to criminal charges, but instead are dismissed or students are placed in diversion programs. Some Council members made the argument that interacting with the police, courts and diversion programs is one of few opportunities young people have to connect with social services.

“I’m gonna say it again and I know this makes some people uncomfortable,” said Council Member Ora Houston. “Sometimes this is the intervention my parents need and my kids need in order to say, ‘You know what, I’m gonna get this together.’”

But Council Member Delia Garza struck back.

“This idea that this is the only way these children will get services and this concern that, ‘How else will I connect these children to services?’ assumes that they either haven’t been connected to services or that there is no other way for them and there are other ways for that.”

By nixing the daytime curfew, Council members went against the wishes of the Austin Police Department. Interim Chief Brian Manley said the curfew is one of the few ways officers have of interacting with young people. He said that doing away with the curfew also makes the department open to possible litigation. In the case that an officer approaches a young person and it escalates into a physical altercation, the officer could be without legal protection.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo

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