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Council Seeks Curfew Law for Youths

July 01, 1993|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Monica teen-agers are about to be grounded.

But only late at night and for their own good, said the five members of the Santa Monica City Council who on Tuesday asked the city's lawyers to write up a curfew law.

As it is envisioned, the curfew law would ban minors from hanging around on the streets after 10 p.m. on weeknights and after 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

There are notable exceptions: Youths would be permitted out and about with their parents or other adult guardians. Or if they are working. Or if they are en route to or from the movies or another entertainment venue.

In other words, if the law is enacted, teen-agers could catch a late movie on the Promenade, but hanging around afterward could lead to a citation, a trip to the police station and a call to mom and dad.

Council members Robert T. Holbrook and Asha Greenberg made the case for the curfew Tuesday night, saying it is dangerous for teen-agers to be out late at night. "We ought to have a legal reason to ask them to go home," Holbrook said.

This is the council's second attempt to reinstate a curfew law in the city since a 1946 statute was deemed unconstitutional a few years ago by former Santa Monica City Atty. Robert M. Myers.

Despite a plea from Police Chief James T. Butts for such a law, the council split 3-3 on the issue last March, with Councilman Ken Genser absent because of illness.

Genser joined Greenberg, Holbrook and Councilmen Kelly Olsen and Paul Rosenstein in backing the curfew Tuesday night. Mayor Judy Abdo and Councilman Tony Vazquez opposed it.

It will come back to the council for a full public hearing before being voted upon. It is expected to draw strong opposition from those in the community who believe it violates the rights of teen-agers.

Butts said he needs the law, common in other cities, as an enforcement tool to control gangs and protect teen-agers from late-night street crime in the city's myriad recreation spots.

Curfew supporters, including the local PTA, say a curfew law will help protect teen-agers from some of the risk-taking behavior that is their developmental hallmark, but which can get them in trouble or lead to their injury or death.

"This is a very effective tool," said veteran police Officer Steve Brackett, speaking for the police officers association. "We might save another youth from getting in trouble."

Detractors view the law as a license for the police to disproportionately target and harass minority youths.

Vazquez, a Latino, who is the council's only member of an ethnic minority, recounted such treatment during his own teen-age years in the city. He said the vote to draw up a curfew law was "a sad day for Santa Monica. . . . To think this is going to be handled very politely and people are going to be asked to go home is naive."

Mayor Abdo recounted a harrowing experience of being detained by Santa Monica police as a suspected teen-age runaway when she was 30, and said she thinks curfews don't work.

"They are good for harassing people," Abdo said. "They are not good for reducing crime or for making people safer."

Most members of the public who spoke at the meeting were against the curfew. One of them, Alex Gonzalez, 23, from the Pico Neighborhood, said, "The curfew would give police legal authority to pull someone over for no reason at all and harass them and arrest them."

Steve Alpert predicted that minority youths would bear the brunt of the curfew. "When someone sees someone who doesn't have a white face, their attitude is different," Alpert said.

But council members and curfew supporters insisted that the fears that a curfew would lead to injustice were ill-founded and not backed up by any evidence of unfairness by Santa Monica's Police Department.

"This will not in any way lead to Santa Monica becoming a police state," Rosenstein said.

As for the council's own youthful brushes with the curfew law, Genser suggested they were out of date. "You know we're all getting older," Genser said. "Things that happened to us in our youth were a long time ago."

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