Austin police chief to urge City Council to nix juvenile curfew


Highlights

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said Tuesday he thinks the city should get rid of its youth curfew.

He changed his mind after hearing from a working group and after reviewing recent cases.

The working group will continue to study the curfew — or lack thereof — and its impact on Austin youth.

Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said Tuesday he plans to urge the Austin City Council to do away with the city’s nighttime curfew for young people under the age of 17.

Manley, who had supported the curfew earlier this year, told the city’s Public Safety Commission during its monthly meeting that data he has reviewed since then led him to change his mind, and he plans to say so at the Sept. 28 City Council meeting. If the council agrees and police officials later notice an uptick in crime committed either by or against children and teens, they might ask the council to restore the curfew, Manley said.

“We want to come back and revisit this in a year,” he said.

The nighttime curfew makes it a misdemeanor crime for anyone under 17 to be out in public or in a business between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. In June, the City Council put an end to the city’s daytime curfew, which required essentially the same thing between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Austin City Council to weigh fate of juvenile curfew

Texas law requires any city curfew to expire unless reviewed and readopted every three years. Austin’s was first implemented in May 1990.

After Manley and others spoke on the issue Tuesday, the Public Safety Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council get rid of the curfew.

Manley said his opinion changed after hearing from a working group that the City Council had formed to study this issue and after analyzing five recent cases in which officers had given formal warnings to curfew violators. Each time, Manley said, the officer had other legal reasons to talk to that young person besides the curfew violation.

“Focusing on the data, focusing on what’s actually happening on the streets, the officers have other reasons that they can actually intercede in these cases. … We will have the ability to interact with these youth that may be out in the nighttime hours to ensure their safety,” Manley said.

The working group recommended that the city get rid of its nighttime curfew, said Morgan Craven, a member of the group and an official with Texas Appleseed, which studies the state’s criminal justice system and other social issues.

The group also recommended that the police policy manual address ways to best work with juveniles and that the city’s Municipal Court meet with youth outside the courthouse and consider meetings at libraries and schools.

Getting rid of the city’s curfew wouldn’t prevent an officer from stopping a teen and asking if he or she needs a ride home; it would only prevent that officer from giving the teen a citation, Commissioner Daniela Nuñez said.

Dallas, Houston, El Paso and Forth Worth have similar nighttime juvenile curfews.

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The city’s working group consists of youth, police officials, experts and social advocates. Manley said the group will continue to meet and study how the curfew — or the lack of a curfew — affects Austin children and teens.

“We know from a lot of research that criminalizing status offenses is really harmful for kids, particularly when we can use other resources and services and give kids guidance to change their behavior,” Craven said. “The criminal charges, the fines and fees that are associated … a lot of families in Austin can’t afford to pay those fines.”

Texas Appleseed found that Austin police issue curfew violation tickets throughout the city, though tickets tend to be most common in North and South Austin, and almost none were issued in West Austin from 2014 to 2016.

The organization also said the law was disproportionately affecting black youth in Austin. Of tickets issued in 2016, 17 percent of the recipients were black, even though black youth only make up 8 percent of the population.

Manley said he wanted to collect data about incidents in which teens were stopped but weren’t ticketed to look closer at this disparity issue.

“Was it an officer’s choice to take an action or not take an action? Or is it based on the population that’s out at night?” Manley said.

Experts and lawmakers made similar arguments in 2015 to decriminalize truancy in Texas, which the Legislature ultimately voted to do.



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