Curfew not the answer

The debate about the need for a tougher curfew in Red Deer is really a discussion about quality parenting, programs for youth and responsive policing.

The debate about the need for a tougher curfew in Red Deer is really a discussion about quality parenting, programs for youth and responsive policing.

Earlier this week, Red Deer city council decided to leave the city’s rarely-enforced 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. curfew as it is. A proposal to expand the curfew time for youth under 16 from the current 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. window was refused by council.

But council did recognize there are problems and encouraged the push for solutions: it wants city administration and the new Crime Prevention Advisory Committee to get to the root of the problem of wayward youth, with the help of other interested groups in the community.

It’s a tall order, but one well worth the effort.

The curfew bylaw was being re-examined, ultimately, as the result of concerns expressed by residents in Northwood Estates.

A petition urging a change in the curfew structure drew 651 signatures after a flurry of complaints about the behaviour of young people in that north-side community.

Neighbours felt threatened, were concerned about protecting their property, and worried about youth activity having an impact on their property values. Those are the kinds of concerns that should be heeded: violence, property crime and a feeling of diminished safety will ripple through a community.

The Crime Prevention Advisory Committee subsequently proposed to council that the curfew be expanded and that the city look at ways to identify and help youth at risk.

The ultimate thrust of the council’s direction — to get young people on the right path — actually makes the curfew discussion moot.

So too does the reality that police use the 11-year-old Red Deer curfew more to guide young people than to punish them. Although it is certainly a useful tool available to police — it allows them to ask for identification, engage young people in conversation and even take them home — it has rarely been used to issue tickets. Red Deer RCMP Supt. Brian Simpson is in favour of community initiatives to solve youth crime problems.

Issuing tickets and restricting basic rights and freedoms should be far from the heart of this discussion. Despite a growing push to stop youth-related crime with curfews — at least eight Central Alberta communities have curfews, and others are considering them — there is no evidence that curfews actually work.

A study in Maryland’s Prince George County found that there was little or no impact on youth crime complaints or arrests as a result of imposing a curfew. A similar study by California’s Centre on Juvenile and Criminal Justice came to much the same conclusion. Even in communities where a weekday daytime curfew is in effect, and where police can actually hold curfew-breakers, there is no sign that youth crime has diminished.

So the better path is the one proposed by city council: a collaborative effort between the Crime Prevention Advisory Committee, the city, and various youth agencies, organizations and community resource groups.

Some communities include a parental responsibility ordinance in their version of Red Deer’s Community Standards Bylaw.

Other communities have introduced behavioural health programs for families of children at risk. The programs include life-skills coaching, education and employment help, and parenting assistance.

In Rimbey a few years ago, council chose not to implement a curfew, instead focusing on establishing facilities and programs for local youth.

In each case, the community chose the constructive path rather than the punitive one. Red Deer is following a good model in pursuing similar solutions.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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