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Community forum discusses proposed daytime curfew in Buffalo

The initiative to establish a city ordinance dealing with young people on the streets when they should be in school is proceeding but will not be ready by spring, University District Councilman Rasheed Wyatt said Monday night.

Wyatt, the chief architect of a proposed curfew, made the comment at a forum at the Edward A. Saunders Community Center at 2777 Bailey Ave.

He said he is working with the city law department and other city and community officials to draft a non-criminal ordinance that would deal with boys and girls frequently out on the streets rather than in schools during school hours. He stressed that his intent is to develop a system designed “not to have police put them in jail” but to work “to keep them in school.”

Wyatt said efforts have to be made to treat teens who deliberately avoid school to try to reduce youth criminal activity citywide.

During the forum speakers complained about Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police being overly aggressive with children they confront on the streets when they should be in school and about lack of local funds for hiring more attendance officers for the Buffalo public school system,

A woman who identified herself only as a 59-year-old Buffalo native, said she had observed transit police officers dealing in what she called a “horrible” manner and “over-policing” teens spotted on the streets during daylight hours.

Chief Carmen J. Menza, head of the Buffalo Police Department’s Northeast District, which is headquartered adjacent to the community center, said the purpose of the proposed daytime curfew would not be to “take a hard-nosed approach” with teens out of school but to develop centers where they can be taken, rather than arrested, to have professional social workers work to assist the kids.

“A punitive system will not work”, warned Will Keresztes, the school district’s associate superintendent. He stressed that he knew “my students will not be intimidated” by an aggressive approach by police.

Omar Adeyola of H.E.A.R.T. Foundation, which works with troubled teens, said licensed social workers have to be included in the teams that will be working with delinquent students

Menza said that currently when his officers approach kids on street corners during school hours, the teens invariably say they have been suspended, which prevents police officers from doing any more with them without a city ordinance dealing with school-time street curfews.

A number of audience members suggested some form of community service requirement, rather than monetary fines for delinquent students, should be part of any new daytime curfew ordinance.

Tylor Norfolk, 16, a junior at the city’s Math, Science and Technology High School, identified himself to the forum as “a former abused runaway roaming the streets” of Buffalo two years ago. He cited the need to hire more attendance teachers to work in the Buffalo public school system.

Norfolk complained about never seeing any of the school system’s existing attendance teachers, who replaced truant officers after the state did away with those jobs statewide over a decade ago.

Afterward Norfolk, one of about a half dozen Buffalo public school students who came to Tuesday night’s discussion, said he came because “I am a very concerned student.”

Sharon Belton-Cottman, a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, warned Wyatt that talk of issuing some sort of identification cars for Buffalo public school students could prompt litigation against the proposed daytime curfew ordinance effort as a whole. She said police officers likely need sensitivity training as part of the implementation of any new daytime curfew laws.

Dr. Barbara Seal Nevergold, another School Board member, lauded Wyatt for what she called Tuesday night’s “really good dialogue” on the proposed curfew. She stressed that the city needs to develop “a well planned, well thought out” ordinance before it is put into place.