Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Dec. 4, 2009
Our View - Approve curfew and look for other solutions
Back in September, we added ourselves to the list of reluctant converts to a citywide curfew. And we're pleased that the list now seems to include a slim majority of the Iowa City Council -- even if one of the council members said it was one of the toughest decisions he's had to make as an elected official.
On Tuesday -- after hearing from organizers of the Safe Neighborhoods of Iowa City coalition as well as from a number of southeast-side residents -- the council voted 4-3 to approve the curfew's second reading. The third reading, the final hurdle for the ordinance to clear before being passed into law, will be put on the agenda for Dec. 14, the current council's final meeting of the year before gaining two new members.
"As a standalone tool, a curfew is pointless," said Councilor Mike Wright, who voted in favor of the curfew. "As part of a package, it may have something to offer to Iowa City."
That "package" needs to build on the hard work being done by the Safe Neighborhoods coalition. Volunteers from the relatively new organization have spent the past few weeks knocking on more than 1,000 doors on the southeast side and completing about 350 surveys in which residents explain what they would like to see done to improve the neighborhoods. The results of those surveys still are being tabulated and analyzed.
The curfew alone, of course, won't address the root causes behind many of the high-profile incidents this year -- such as a nearly 60-person brawl on Hollywood Boulevard on Mother's Day, reports of shots fired on Lakeside Drive and Regal Lane on Aug. 5, and a homicide investigation of a landlord found dead at Broadway Condominiums. Many of the worst incidents took place during daylight or early evening hours, and many of the teens involved already were under curfew restrictions through the juvenile courts.
Yet the curfew seems a tempered and appropriate response to residents' concerns. Police officials say that it could be a "helpful tool" in responding to the neighborhood problems identified by southeast residents. And some parents report that it could give them more leverage over their children's behavior.
Besides, the restrictions are hardly draconian. Kids younger than 14 have to be off the streets by 10 p.m.; 14- and 15-year-olds by 11 p.m.; 16- and 17-year-olds by midnight. The ordinance is full of justifiable exemptions, and police say they plan to issue citations only as a last resort -- after verbal warnings and other strategies have been used.
We urge the existing council -- at its last meeting of the year -- to give its final approval to the curfew. Then, after Councilors-elect Susan Mims and Terry Dickens are seated in January, the new council can continue looking at more long-term solutions.