An expanded curfew is unwise

Like so many ordinances, the county’s curfew regulations have reached their three year expiration date.  The county must now revisit the specifics of the ordinance, and reinstate it.  The Houston Chronicle reports Sheriff Adrian Garcia has proposed a daytime curfew in addition to the nighttime one already in place.  While this would not affect incorporated City of Houston areas, which already have a daytime curfew, this would add more curfew hours to those under the age of 17 in unincorporated Harris County.

Sheriff Garcia believes that such a curfew would give his officers the ability to decrease daytime burglaries since juveniles are sometimes involved in daytime crime.  It would be a means for police officers to “intervene when they think the law applies,” thereby stopping crimes before they happen.

There is strong opposition to the new curfew hours by home-schooled students and their families, who fear they will be unduly affected by the new law, but there are exemptions for home-school students, as well as any student with reasonable cause for being out.  No, there are greater reasons why the curfew should not be expanded aside from the potential for a few home-school students getting tickets.

There is no reason why the crimes committed by juveniles during the day should not be addressed by the laws currently in place.  Furthermore, there is a significant difference between a nighttime curfew and a daytime curfew.  While there are few justifiable reasons a juvenile would be out at 3am, there are countless reasons a teenager would be out at noon during a normal weekday.  Those young adults who are legitimately out of school during normal school hours should not be hindered by a police officer questioning where they are going and what they are doing just because they look to be a certain age.

Sheriff Garcia is essentially asking for a blank check for his officers to stop juveniles and give them citations as they please during school hours, just for being under the age of 17.  While it’s easy for an adult to say yes to such a sweeping gesture, it is important to note that it hinders on the rights of responsible teenagers and could potentially encourage age profiling.  Besides, there do not appear to be significant statistics backing the claim that such a curfew would even significantly decrease daytime crime in unincorporated Harris County.  Nonetheless, early reports indicate that it is likely the ordinance will be reinstated unchanged as many members of the Review Board have indicated a preference to keep the policy as is.

Back in 2009, when I worked at City Hall, I debated this very issue among my contemporaries (including Andrew, Noah & Olivia). At that point we were only discussing the City of Houston curfew, not unincorporated Harris County, but the point remains the same. We ultimately came to the conclusion that the curfews, especially those during the day, did more harm than good.