Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 23, 2009
Our View - After Iowa City curfew goes into effect tonight
It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your 13-year-old is?
It's 11 p.m. Do you know where your 15-year-old is?
It's midnight. Do you know where your 17-year-old is?
Because tonight Iowa City's curfew goes into effect.
According to the city, unless your children are engaging in one of a number of exempted activities, that means those younger than 14 have to be off the streets by 10 p.m., 14- and 15-year-olds by 11 p.m. and 16- and 17-year-olds by midnight.
Both police and city officials are still working out some kinks in how the ordinance will be enforced. Right now it seems Iowa City police -- at least until March 1 --will be issuing only warnings, not citations, for curfew violations. (Although the police, as always, will be citing for other illegal activities that juveniles are engaged in after hours.)
The council, however, has required the police to keep records of all their curfew-based interactions. The idea is that the information will help the city determine whether the ordinance itself is discriminatory in that its enforcement shows a disparate impact on minority populations.
The ordinance gives police officers discretion as to whether to cite a teen for being out after hours or whether to let the teen off with a written warning. But it's unclear whether the record-keeping requirement would prohibit officers from pulling up alongside a group of teens, rolling down the window and giving an informal verbal warning like, "Hey, guys, it's after hours. Time to go home."
Because the ordinance requires officers to keep a record, they presumably would have to stop everyone and start writing down names. That increases the potential for what otherwise could be an informal warning to turn into a much uglier interaction.
And while the city and police figure out how best to implement the curfew, the Iowa City Council still has more to do to fully live up to its rhetoric of having this curfew be just one component of a larger vision for improving the quality of life in the city's southeast neighborhoods.
We hope city councilors continue to work with the Safe Neighborhood Coalition and other neighborhood groups to ensure that they are responding to the requests made by the people who live in the affected neighborhoods.
We hope the city and the police work together to develop more community-based crime prevention positions like that of Officer Jorie Bailey as well as to implement a youth officer.
And we also think the city might look into how it can help support the development of second- or third-shift child care programming located on the southeast side. That way, the parents affected by this ordinance might have more options for how to avoid leaving their young children home without adult supervision.