South Charlotte

Would stronger curfew help?

As city officials weigh whether to increase the citywide curfew age, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers say the curfew is - and will likely remain - a secondary function of their duties.

The current Youth Protection Ordinance says that nobody 15 years old or younger is allowed to be out unsupervised after 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon suggested raising the curfew age to 16 or 17 after the fatal shooting at Food Lion Speed Street on May 28. The shooting happened when a large group of youths began fighting near the Hilton Hotel in downtown.

Some city officials believe raising the curfew age would make it easier for CMPD to apprehend troubled youth as well as protect the city's youth from being victimized late at night

But some south Charlotte parents questioned whether that was a cure, especially given that many parents and teenagers aren't aware that a citywide curfew exists.

"I thought the whole thing was an overreaction. That's not the reason for what happened," said Lisa Kelly, the PTA president at Ardrey Kell High School. "People tend to want to find an easy fix instead of delving deeper into the issue. That's not really going to fix anything."

And although the curfew has been in place since 1995, several youths at the Blakeney shopping center on one recent Friday night said they weren't aware of a citywide curfew - although they were well aware of what their parents' curfew for them was.

Capt. Jim Wilson of the South Division said he tells his officers to approach the curfew as a secondary duty.

In other words, officers are encouraged to enforce the curfew if they happen upon a violation during regular patrols, but they aren't expected to devote an entire shift to searching for violators.

Curfew violation numbers illustrate that.

From June 2010 to May 2011, there were 16 curfew violations in the South Division. Department-wide, there were 58 violations within that same period.

Violators are usually taken home by the officer and juveniles are not typically charged with anything.

Officers can decide to charge a parent, however, if the parent knowingly let the child violate curfew. Sometimes officers can make a juvenile arrest if the juvenile resists them.

Still, Wilson said that curfew enforcement will likely remain secondary should the council change the ordinance.

Any more attention would likely be unfeasible for Wilson's force. At any given time, Wilson said, there are eight to 10 officers patrolling the 57.3 square mile South Division..

Private security officers hired by shopping centers and off-duty officers would likely be the ones to enforce the curfew the most because they have a focused coverage area, CMPD Officer H.B. McSwain said.

As for CMPD, Wilson said he doesn't expect any changes to cost the department more money or manpower.

"It would make it somewhat easier because most people who are 16 or 17 years old have some form of identification," he said, noting that sometimes it's difficult to verify a teenager's age unless the officer calls the parent.

Councilman Andy Dulin, who represents District 6 in south Charlotte, said he's interested in finding a solution that will protect the city's youth, especially given that his three children are under 18 years old.

"I've definitely got some skin in this," he said.

Last month, city council recommended that the public safety committee review the proposed changes. City council is not expected to address the curfew until its September meeting, said Dulin.

Kelley said she hopes the proposed changes don't distract police from doing their jobs - or parents from doing theirs.

"Parents need to take responsibility for their children, even when they're teenagers," she said. "It really shouldn't be the job of law enforcement to be the parents."