Buffalo's incoming police commissioner says the youth curfew will be aggressively enforced, starting with an effort this month that will involve officers giving minors rides home -- then giving parents words of warning.
H. McCarthy Gipson discussed the plans Tuesday when he appeared before the Common Council at his confirmation hearing. A survey by The Buffalo News indicates that the 35-year law enforcement veteran will be unanimously confirmed by lawmakers next week. Gipson, who became interim police commissioner this week, said the city's curfew was discussed at a chiefs' meeting Monday. He said he wants to get a "jump start" before warmer weather returns, when more minors are prone to roaming the streets at night. In the first phase of the effort, Gipson said officers will let violators' parents know that they could have been issued a citation.
Gipson's plan comes as welcome news to the leader of a coalition of block clubs. "It's a very good idea, and what he's talking about sounds workable," said Louise Bonner, first vice president of the Board of Block Clubs. "We need this to happen."
Under the law, police can detain children 16 and younger who are on city streets between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays or between midnight and 5 a.m. on weekends. Parents of first-time violators receive warnings, while parents of repeat offenders face fines of up to $200.
Some Council members have long complained that curfew enforcement has been uneven. One dilemma involves what to do with youngsters who are picked up at night, but whose parents or guardians are not home. During some enforcement blitzes, the department designated a community room in a police station as a "drop-off center."
Law enforcers and elected leaders agree the best strategy is to get voluntary compliance. Gipson thinks that making house calls to the parents of curfew violators could minimize future problems while reinforcing officers' presence in neighborhoods.
Gipson addressed other issues at the hearing.
He encouraged the Council to ask the control board for permission to hire more police officers to help offset service cuts when the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority abolished its public safety unit last summer. Gipson said the cost-cutting move put a "significant added burden" on police officers.
Gipson acknowledged morale problems in the department. Officers signed a 2003 contract agreeing to one-officer cars and other changes in exchange for raises. Their salaries increased the first year, but the control board blocked further raises in a wage freeze affecting all city and school district employees. Some officers have said frustrations over the freeze have contributed to a recent crackdown by police on parking and traffic violations.
Gipson did not directly speak to officers' past motivations, but he said he plans a "quality of life" initiative that will include vigorous enforcement of laws ranging from vehicular and traffic rules to noise and littering. He said he believes targeting minor offenses will help reduce more serious crime.