GARDENA — The Police Department says it will begin strictly enforcing the city's youth curfew law in an effort to discourage loitering.
The change in policy is effective immediately, said Capt. Robert D. Bohan. Officers have the option of arresting violators or issuing a verbal warning.
Gardena's municipal code prohibits people under 18 from loitering in public streets, parks and other public places between 10 p.m. and sunrise when not accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or spouse 21 or older.
Bohan said a 17-year-old on the way home from a movie after 10 p.m., for instance, would not necessarily be violating the curfew. "It has to be a loitering-type situation. He has to be there for no apparent reason."
The crackdown was sought by the Holly Park Homeowners Assn. after the Aug. 17 fatal shooting of Dwayne Bratten, 21, of Gardena. Bratten was shot during an argument at 139th Street and Van Ness Avenue in the Holly Park area.
Bohan said the curfew law would not have applied in that instance because the shooting took place about 7 p.m. But Holly Park homeowners told the City Council that too many youths are hanging out in the area.
Because some curfew laws in Los Angeles County are not enforceable for various reasons, Bohan said, the council asked City Atty. Michael J. Karger to examine the legality of Gardena's loitering law. Karger responded in a letter, saying the ordinance is constitutional "if applied only to minors under the age of 18, and if applied on a consistent basis throughout the city."
Bohan called on the citizens of Gardena to help enforce the law, and he asked that they realize it will be enforced equally citywide. He said that with school reopening, he expects loitering problems to decrease.
Lt. Philip Shepherd, investigative services commander, said the city's loitering law has not been strongly enforced in the past. There have been only 8 to 10 arrests for loitering in the last year, he said.