Share this article

print logo

WHO'S WATCHING THE CHILDREN?
BUFFALO POLICE AND CITY LEADERS PONDER THE WORTH OF CURFEW LAWS AND HOW TO EFFECTIVELY USE THEM

The community center at Delavan Avenue and Grider Street closes at 9 p.m., two hours before Buffalo's rarely enforced teenage curfew kicks in.

In between shooting hoops Tuesday, the teenagers there decided among themselves that the 11-year-old city curfew probably isn't a bad idea -- as a concept at least. But on a practical matter, they aren't so sure.

"It's kind of unfair, but it's helping us so we don't get in trouble or get hurt," said Brandon Richmond, 14, of Olympic Avenue.

Some other kids at the center are even more skeptical.

"Good luck enforcing it," said 14-year-old Monique Murphy of Wyoming Avenue.

"It's a good idea, but it's not going to help," added Monique's older sister, Erica. "If their mother says they don't have to be in at 11, they're not going to be in. Half of them don't listen to their mothers. It's just going to be another law to break."

With violence on the East Side marring the first weeks of summer, the Common Council on Tuesday unanimously called on the Police Department to immediately develop strategies to enforce the curfew it approved more than a decade ago but police rarely enforce.

Under the law, children 16 and younger on city streets between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays or between midnight and 5 a.m. on weekends can be detained by police. Parents of first-time violators can be slapped with warnings, and parents of repeat offenders face fines of up to $200.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello confirmed this week that police will step up enforcement of the curfew this summer.

Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina said while the most effective way to enforce the curfew law is with a "quick blitz" approach, the law itself is "a tool that's always been available to our officers at their discretion."

In recent years, it has been rarely enforced mostly for fiscal and logistical reasons, he said.

"It's very labor intensive. We believe in prevention and intervention," Diina said. "We want to get to the root of the problem. We don't want to just pick them up and take them back to where the problem is (at home)."

Diina said when the law was enacted, curfew violators would be taken first to a place designated for counseling before being released back home. When grants dried up and the Community Services unit of the Police Department was abolished for fiscal reasons, so did that way of dealing with curfew scofflaws.

"It begins in the home, and it's tough to change the mind-set of parents," said Lt. William Blake of the Central District .

"The parents or guardians should be held accountable for supervising their children," said Lt. James Shea. "If they don't comply, there should be a penalty."

Other officers questioned what police are supposed to do with teenagers police take to homes where parents are not around.

"What do you do when you pick up a kid at 2 a.m. and his parents aren't home or his grandmother doesn't want him back?" asked Detective Sgt. Robert T. Chella, head of Special Services.

In the past, other police officers said, they kept the teenagers in their patrol cars for much of their shift, sometimes eventually dropping them back on the street.

Masiello said that the most important thing will be to create follow-up steps along with enforcing the curfew. That can involve community leaders and agencies supervising children who are picked up, analyzing their needs and reaching out to parents.

Some police stations have "community rooms," said Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson, the lead sponsor of the push to crack down on curfew violators."

But he acknowledged the need for more drop-off sites -- and for supervisors at those sites. Dozens of residents are eager to volunteer, willing to staff community centers or churches that could become drop-off centers, he said. Those volunteers, he said, could even give parents information about support services and other programs when they retrieve their children.

Mayor James D. Griffin signed a temporary youth curfew in late 1993 as one of the last major anti-crime initiatives before he left office. The law had a two-year sunset provision, and it was made permanent in 1996.

Griffin, now South District Council member, said "excuses" can always be found for not enforcing the law, but he doesn't believe manpower or drop-off sites should be hurdles. He agreed that community centers and possibly some schools could be used.

Others on the Council would like to see a stronger curfew law.

"If a child gets picked up a second time, the parents should be going to jail," said Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr.

Alonzo Barnes, who is on the board of directors of the Delavan-Grider Community Center, cited the need for more facilities of this nature in urban areas. And keeping them open around the clock might be a good idea, he said.

"Kids hanging out on the corner should have a curfew. But if kids are on the way to the community center, there should be no curfew, because we have something for them to do," he said.

Positive role models are the key for inner-city youth, according to Damone Brown, the Seneca Vocational High School graduate who starred for the Syracuse University basketball team and now plays professionally as a forward for the NBA's New Jersey Nets.

Brown, 25, runs a summer basketball program at the Delavan-Grider Community Center and tries to mentor many of his neighborhood's youngsters.

His advice: "Be yourself and surround yourself with positive people."

Do curfews really reduce crime?

The National League of Cities, a Washington-based advocacy group that represents thousands of municipalities, has been tracking the results. Curfews have been effective in reducing juvenile crime, easing gang violence and fighting truancy, according to its officials.

A survey of 800 cities conducted in November 2001 found a high level of confidence in curfews among municipal officials. Communities that have curfews view them as "useful, cost-effective and an important tool" to ensure youth safety, League Executive Director Donald J. Borut said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com
and tpignataro@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment