Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cap City Liberty: Victory! Madison Common Council votes down restrictive youth curfew change

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Madison Common Council Approves Curfew Change: New Rules Provide Exemptions For Some Teens - WISC-TV

MADISON, Wis. -- When the Madison Common Council finally took up a proposed new curfew on Tuesday night, it was too late for many of the students who had come to speak on the issue to have their voices heard -- citing the need to go home to complete homework as the reason for their early departure.

Afterward, council members approved a proposal by Alder Michael Schumacher, of District 18. The measure maintains the existing 11 p.m. curfew for teenagers, but provides some exemptions. Teenagers who are working, attending school, faith or community-based activities past 11 p.m., or traveling home from those activities will no longer be subject to curfew violations, WISC-TV reported.

The debate over changing Madison's curfew began earlier in the night with a proposal by Alder Jed Sanborn. The District 1 representative wanted to expand the city's curfew ordinance and require children who are ages 15 and younger to be home an hour earlier -- by 10 p.m. -- Sunday through Thursday.

"I was actually approached by the police department asking for this," Sanborn said. "We do have a problem in some areas with young kids out late at night, looking for things to do and oftentimes looking for trouble."

Sanborn's proposal would have kept the existing Friday and Saturday night curfew at midnight for all children age 16 and younger.

His proposal for a modified Sunday through Thursday ordinance would have had exemptions for teens involved in work or school activities, but didn't change current rules requiring 16 year olds be home by 11 p.m.

Those exemptions raised questions for some parents who were curious if the rules would have applied to non-school activities, like the Wisconsin Youth Symphony.

Others questioned the practice altogether.

"When I first saw this curfew, I thought wow, this is well intentioned, but I think it may have consequences we haven't thought about," Bill Patterson said. "What I've learned from my work with young people, is it doesn't work to cradle them all together and say you do this and you do that, you have to reach them one on one."

Patterson said he supported more community programs that build a connection with youth, especially those considered to be at risk.

"Juveniles need respect, and if they don't get it. They're not going to give it back, just like none of us will," said Rosemary Lee.

Council Member Shiva Bidar-Sielaff would later cite Lee's statement while apologizing to youth who waited two and a half hours to speak before the council only to go home without having their comments heard. Some young people did wait to talk to council members.

"We need to place more trust in our youth. Trust breeds trust, if you trust us, we'll trust you and we'll obey the law, but if you treat us like criminals,comma we'll act like criminals. It's human nature," said 18-year-old Andrew Bange.

Bange said he had a younger brother who would be impacted by Sanborn's modified ordinance. Bange's father Greg also commented and said the proposal didn't just constrain children, but their parents as well.

"As a parent, it's my job to make sure my kids do right, because I want them to have a future. A law of unintended consequences here constrains my ability to parent my children," Greg Bange said.

Madison Police Chief Nobel Wray said the issue comes down to what the council wants to decide about setting the hour neighborhoods should quiet down. Wray cited statistics that show most of the citations are issued after midnight, an hour later than the current curfew time.

"The first hour, officers are using that as a warning, and I would anticipate you would probably see the same thing at 10 p.m.," said Wray, who also addressed concerns by some council members that an earlier curfew would lead to racial profiling by police. "If an officer is going to engage in biased-based policing, they don't need an extra hour to do that."

Alder Judy Compton, who represents District 16, said some of her colleagues on the council weren't "fighting fair" by bringing race into the debate. She said any child of any age and any race can get into trouble.

A representative from the ACLU also spoke about the impact of a curfew change. Erik Guenther said the ACLU was opposed to a change and suggested that any student receiving a curfew citation could be penalized from getting into college and being hired when asked on applications "if they've ever been convicted of anything other than a traffic citation."

Late in the meeting, Alder Brian Solomon asked the council to repeal the entire ordinance, though it wasn't immediately clear how far his suggestion might go.

"I do think poor kids are going to be by default more hit by this, if a kid is walking home in a low income neighborhood, it's going to get them. If they have no safe place to hang out, if they don't have an XBox to play at a friend's house safe at night," said Solomon.

Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage.