Officials have yet to make a decision on amending the City of Owensboro’s curfew ordinance after members of My Brother’s Keepers, a grassroots anti-violence organization, presented a proposal in August for an earlier curfew for juveniles.
According to the law, a parent is responsible for their children if they are found in a public place between 1 and 5 a.m. My Brother’s Keepers would like to see that curfew set to 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“There is absolutely nothing going on at 1 a.m.” said Tim Collier, My Brother’s Keeper founder.
Curfew is set 12 a.m. in Lexington and 1 a.m. in Henderson. Other cities across the Commonwealth like Paducah and Louisville set curfew throughout the week at 11 p.m. and extend hours to 1 a.m. on the weekend.
Owensboro Police Chief Art Ealum said before the curfew ordinance is modified, he would like to see more judicial accountability for juvenile offenders. According to Ealum, in the last five years, Owensboro Police Department has written 27 curfew violations, but only two were found guilty. While four are still pending, the remaining 21 were dismissed.
“It’s not beneficial to anybody if the City commissioners and the mayor go through the trouble of lowering the curfew time when we can’t get any results,” Ealum said. “This is a community issue. If we can’t get the support judicially, then what’s the point in tinkering around with the ordinance?”
County Attorney Claud Porter cited beyond control petitions as the reason for the dismissals. Although it is the juvenile committing the curfew violation, the law states that the parent is responsible.
Porter said parents will cite their children are “beyond control,” which tells the court their child has repeatedly failed to follow reasonable directives, resulting in danger to himself or others. This dismisses the curfew citation against the parent, but moves the child into juvenile court. If the parent does not file a beyond control petition or cannot prove the child was beyond control, they face a fine of $250 or less.
Porter does not believe changing the curfew will affect great change.
“You cannot legislate good parenting,” he said. “You can punish or give consequences for certain behaviors and that’s what we try to do. Fining a parent because their kid is out is not going to stop violence. Telling the parents to keep the kids in and making sure the parents do that is going to help.”
Porter said not only is 27 violations in five years is a good statistic, but the low volume of curfew citations means that a majority or parents are already enforcing the rule.
“I don’t have any other kind of law that has been that effective,” he said.
Porter said the more effective route to reduce juvenile violence is to pursue charges for laws broken while they are out past curfew — violations like criminal mischief, trespassing, theft, disorderly conduct or assault.
“I have a little more consequence to give for those,” he said.
Ealum agrees that parents play a vital role in seeing juvenile charges decrease.
“If the parent doesn’t take action against the child… the child has not learned a lesson,” he said. “He or she will be back out. That’s what we see over and over again — the same children.”
Ealum also worries about the extra resources a curfew change will require of OPD. He said a curfew citation is more involved than, for example, a speeding ticket. A person who is caught speeding is issued a citation and is then released. When a juvenile is involved, he or she must be held until OPD can release them to a parent or guardian. Ealum said police officers cannot transport children to any local youth services like St. Joseph Peace Mission.
“That can get very time consuming,” he said. “That time [officers] are off the street could be a serious strain on our resources.”
According to Ealum, if the curfew ordinance is amended, the goal is to have a change in place prior to the start of Friday After 5 and the end of the school year next summer.
Collier said the decision is taking more time than the organization thought.
“I don’t know what to do other than keep the heat on the City,” he said.
Collier questions who will take responsibility for the problem, saying that Mayor Tom Watson handed the problem to the OPD, which is now saying it is at a judicial level.
“Who is going to take accountability for this?” he said. “I am going to go to the next City Commission meeting and I’m going to keep holding the City accountable. If my first proposal was not good enough, I will write another one.”