Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 9, 2009.
Our View - Curfew raises more concerns than solutions
It doesn't seem that anyone is either especially thrilled with the wording of a proposed curfew ordinance that the Iowa City Council will discuss in a special work session Thursday. With several noted exceptions, the measure would require minors 13 and younger to be off the streets of Iowa City by 10 p.m., 14- and 15-year-olds by 11 p.m. and 16- and 17-year-olds by midnight. Another proposed ordinance would outlaw congregating, loafing and loitering in a street in a way that blocks traffic.
Iowa City police had requested more of a delinquent behavior ordinance that would address many of the concerns raised by residents in the city's southeast side: including, youth roaming at all hours, small children out alone without supervision, loitering in large groups, throwing rocks, blocking traffic on streets and chronic truancy. But a memo from the city attorney explains that many of the offenses already are covered in the city code and that Iowa law severely limits the types of additional behavior the council could include in such an ordinance.
Juvenile court officers and teen advocates worry that a curfew could be disproportionately enforced and could give a few teens even longer records. But some also recognize the curfew probably would affect the kids who already are on their radar.
It seems the concerns are more over how a curfew would be enforced rather than whether one is set. The city attorney's memo suggests that similar ordinances in other cities generally are used as "a way to intervene and get kids off the streets when they are out at inappropriate hours." Citations -- and the $50 fine included in the ordinance -- "are reserved for repeat and difficult offenders."
Our concern is that city officials seem to be moving forward with a strategy that few people -- if any -- think will help solve the concerns raised by residents of the southeast side. Yes, a curfew would help make sure that younger children aren't on the streets unsupervised at all hours, and yes it might provide some needed support for parents who are having trouble keeping their teens in at night, but a curfew would not have stopped many of the worst incidents that we've seen in the past year.
No one on the council has suggested that these proposed ordinances will solve the problems by themselves. At best, the councilors tend to view the curfew as a short-term response before they can move on to address some more long-term solutions.
We hope the council, before approving a curfew, would require additional evidence that it actually is a step in the right direction toward addressing the public safety problems the council is seeking to solve.
As for the proposed ordinance about "standing, loitering and obstructing persons," we hope it passes and is enforced throughout the city -- especially in the downtown area after the bars let out.