Not long ago, those who lived near Veterans Memorial Park in York City worried about vandalism and harassment from teenagers who tore through the neighborhood late at night.

Things gradually became quieter once neighbors started nighttime walking patrols, said Kimberly Bolt, president of the Veterans Memorial Park Neighborhood Association. But a big change came this spring, when the city moved its youth curfew from midnight to 11 p.m. and late-night activity went down at the nearby Roll 'R' Way Family Skating Center.

"No litter and graffiti and trash, no issues, no kids running and hollering all over the place at ungodly hours -- it's been really nice," Bolt said.

Curfews are under discussion across a swath of York County, now that a task force is promoting uniform curfew laws.

Some municipal leaders and police chiefs have embraced curfews, hoping new laws will help keep young people out of trouble. But courts have not always smiled on curfew laws, in part because of questions about their effectiveness.

Meanwhile, some York County parents are fighting curfew proposals they say are unnecessarily affecting their children.

"This is another way to restrict them, and there's just no need," said Manchester Township resident Anita Marchesani.

Countywide push: The idea of a countywide 11 p.m. curfew grew out of discussions on how to prevent truancy, said task force member Sgt. Brian Copenheaver of the York County Sheriff's office.


Advertisement

Young people would be more likely to know when they need to be home at night if the curfew is the same across the county, and a daytime curfew could make it easier for police to address students skipping school, Copenheaver said.

The task force later dropped its daytime curfew push because of a lack of support from District Attorney Stan Rebert, though some municipalities have embraced the idea.

But the nighttime curfew proposal is still moving forward. Copenheaver said the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was chosen because it coincides with the junior driver's license law, which keeps most drivers under 18 off the streets during those hours.

'Common sense': County juvenile crime statistics suggest the hours just after midnight are among the times when juveniles are most likely to be charged with crimes.

The after-school hours, between 3 and 6 p.m., are about as busy, according to the county's juvenile probation department.

Bryce Wickard, chief of juvenile probation, said both are times when parents might have a hard time supervising their children, since many work until dinnertime and go to sleep by midnight.

"The realities of life, of employment, some people working two jobs, are that the parents need support of curfew ordinances, an extra eye of the police officers driving around at night," Wickard said.

Though the task force has no proof a curfew will keep children out of trouble, Copenheaver said the approach is "common sense," especially because curfews also can help police identify those who might not have a safe place to sleep.

"It's to protect the children," Copenheaver said. "They're going to be at more risk (at night), not just involved in criminal activity as an actor."

Popular support: Surveys turn up strong support for curfews among law enforcement and the general public alike, and in a New Orleans survey teens were as likely as their parents to say they support the city's strict curfew, according to research discussed in the Children's Legal Rights Journal in 1998.

Though adults have done the most visible debating over curfews in York County, the idea has some support among York County teens as well.

"There's going to be a few (teenagers) out there doing things no matter what, but it will bring down the crime rate," said Nicole Longnecker, a 17-year-old student at William Penn Senior High School.

But the assumption that curfews work is not necessarily based on research.

Some cities see no change in crime after they put a curfew in place, according to a 2003 study in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. And while others do see crime rates drop, just about as many places see them rise.

The studies are fuel for Marchesani, who said officials need to demonstrate whether curfews would really benefit York County. 

"When you're talking about restricting freedoms on a specific group of Americans, I think you need to have a lot more behind it than the notion that it sounds good," Marchesani said.

Legal questions: Pennsylvania municipalities could end up having to defend curfew laws in court, and they might not win. When a mother and her two teenage sons challenged the boys' curfew citations in Gaffney v. Allentown, the law was overturned in U.S. Eastern District Court.

Judge Edward N. Cahn said there was not enough evidence that the curfew cut crime in the first year the city enforced it.

"The number of unsupervised children outside at night is troubling," Cahn wrote in his opinion. "But the solution to these problems cannot infringe upon citizens' constitutional rights, even if those citizens are under the age of 18."

But a curfew survived a court challenge in an earlier Pennsylvania case, Bykofsky v. Borough of Middletown, in which the U.S. Middle District upheld a curfew after the court applied a less stringent standard of reviewing the law.

The legal uncertainty raised concerns at the American Civil Liberties Union. Staff attorney Valerie Burch said courts review curfew laws on a case-by-case basis, so it is hard to tell whether a proposed ordinance runs afoul of the Constitution.

Even if ordinances pass legal muster, Burch said, the ACLU opposes laws that restrict a group of people just because of crimes they might commit.

"If we operated our entire legal system that way, you can imagine what life would be like in the United States," Burch said.

The ACLU also believes government should not take the place of parents when it comes to granting or denying a child permission to be out of the house, Burch said. If parents are not watching their children, there are other laws to address the neglect.

Possible positives: But while curfew opponents say there is no evidence supporting curfews, some studies suggest curfews can have some positive effects.

In Dallas, Texas, aggressive curfew and truancy enforcement led to a reduction in gang violence when it was combined with increased police patrols, according to a 1996 study in Crime & Delinquency, in Dallas, Texas.

And a number of cities saw a decrease in crime and an increase in positive connections with at-risk youths after they began more comprehensive curfew enforcement, providing alternate activities for youths and social programs meant to help their families prevent future violations, according to 1996 bulletin by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

York City is putting something similar in place with the surrounding boroughs of North York and West York, which are all looking to take curfew violators to a central curfew center. Curfew violators and their parents will be able to access social services through a diversionary program that could allow them to avoid a citation.

The new approach has its advocates, including city councilwoman Toni Smith, who said she is more excited than ever about the curfew's potential to change the city.

"When they get to the age of junior high and high school, if you don't have some guidance, sometimes you get lost," Smith said. "All we try to do is to try to get the community to help them, to find themselves and help them."

--Reach Daina Klimanis at 505-5439 or dklimanis@yorkdispatch.com.