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Study Finds Curfew Law Fails to Curb Violent Crime

Juveniles: Police say they want to retain discretion to issue citations, but special task forces are not cost effective.

February 10, 1998|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Aggressive police enforcement of nighttime curfews "has not significantly decreased" violent crime or reduced the number of young crime victims, according to a Los Angeles Police Department report submitted to the City Council on Monday.

"Having task forces to enforce curfew is not always a cost-effective method or the best utilization of [police] personnel and other resources," concludes the report sent by Police Chief Bernard C. Parks to the council's Public Safety Committee.

As a result, Parks recommends that LAPD command officers be given discretion to use special curfew enforcement teams only if they need them. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Police Commission and the City Council directed police captains to crack down on nighttime curfew violators in their areas.

During a six-month period ending last October, the LAPD dispatched 101 curfew task forces, expending more than 3,600 officer-hours and citing more than 4,800 juvenile curfew violators.

But the report says an "examination of the number of crimes that occurred during the curfew enforcement hours [10 p.m. to 6 a.m.] revealed that the . . . effort has not greatly impacted the number of minors who became crime victims or the total number of violent crimes committed."

LAPD officials said their findings on nighttime curfews do not apply to the enforcement of a daytime curfew--also known as the anti-truancy law--which has been credited with a 20% to 45% drop in daytime burglaries, shoplifting and car break-ins.

Recently, a national survey of nearly 350 cities reported that 93% of the cities with nighttime curfews found them to be a useful tool. The survey, however, was based mostly on anecdotal information and did not look at statistical reductions of crime or juvenile crime victims as did the LAPD.

LAPD Cmdr. Eric Lillo, who is in charge of juvenile services, said the department also considers the nighttime curfew a valuable tool even though it has not made a big dent in crime statistics.

"We want to keep the flexibility to use it as we need it," Lillo said. "We don't want this tool taken away."

The LAPD report also says that enforcing the nighttime curfew law may help reduce residents' fear of crime, resulting in "a qualitative value which is difficult to measure."

The use of task forces to crack down on curfew violators appears to have been uneven throughout the city, the report shows. Nine of the LAPD's 18 divisions did not use any task force to enforce the curfew over the last six-month period, which saw a 90% increase in citations from the previous six months. In fact, the most active enforcers of the curfew were patrol officers during their regular shifts. Only 17% of the citations were the result of task forces during the six-month period.

Critics of the nighttime curfews, however, said the LAPD's findings confirm that the laws are ineffective.

"Statistics don't lie," said Elizabeth Schroeder, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "The fact that police find there is little difference being made is very telling. Instead of having special task forces, which are ineffective, the money should be redirected into programs across the board that will give children a place to be."

The ACLU has generally opposed nighttime curfews and is particularly concerned about whether they are enforced equally throughout a community so police don't target mostly poor and minority youngsters, Schroeder said.

Curfew laws in the United States date back to the early 1800s, when major cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia used them in an effort to quell juvenile delinquency. Today, city officials often pass curfews to thwart gang activity and protect youngsters under age 18 from becoming crime victims.

Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Riordan, said he backed curfew enforcement, in large part because residents were asking that something be done about gang activity in their areas.

"If [curfew laws] can be applied in a meaningful way then they should be enforced," said Rodriguez, adding that the mayor will review the department report.

Councilwoman Laura Chick, who heads the Public Safety Committee, said she asked the LAPD for a report on the curfew enforcement so she and other policymakers can evaluate its effectiveness.

"I'm interested in hearing if the time has come to modify the curfew law," said Chick, who pushed for the city's anti-truancy ordinance. "This is a policy discussion we need to have."

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