After a two-hour debate that included emotional testimony from teens who believe they are targeted because of the way they look, the Austin City Council struck a compromise Thursday night over the city’s juvenile curfew.
A divided council temporarily extended the overnight curfew, which makes it illegal for anyone under age 17 to be out in public or in a business between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. But it didn’t extend the daytime curfew, which does essentially the same thing between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.
The overnight curfew remains in effect through Oct. 1, with the council planning to revisit the ordinance Sept. 28.
Many had been in favor of eliminating the curfew outright. However, as the debate went on, questions grew over how police would interact with children seen out late at night.
As part of the 7-4 vote temporarily extending the overnight curfew, the council changed the ordinance to mandate that police give warnings only — not citations — on the first two violations. A third instance could result in a $500 fine and a conviction of a class C misdemeanor, though curfew violations usually don’t result in a conviction, according to court staffers.
The extension was put in place after about 30 people spoke against the curfew.
“I am against because it can affect a lot of teenagers, especially ones like me,” said Kevin Alvarez, one of several teens to address the council. “We know we are being targeted because we look different, and we are also scared because it could stain our record.”
Council Member Greg Casar led the charge against the curfew, and was joined in the minority by Mayor Steve Adler and Council Members Delia Garza and Kathie Tovo.
“It is irresponsible for our city to continue authorizing our police to arrest teenagers without any probable cause of a crime, other than being young and out in public,” Casar said. He has cited numbers showing Austin’s curfew citations are disproportionately given to black and Hispanic youths.
However, several council members said that, while it’s far from ideal, contact with police or the courts helps connect some youth with the social services they need. Council Member Ora Houston supported the temporary extension of the curfew to allow time for a working group to discuss other ways of reaching those youth.
“I don’t think any of us want the criminalization of juveniles,” Houston said.
Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who initially supported ending the curfew, said she agreed that temporary extension was a reasonable compromise.
Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley said the public expects police to ensure the safety of juveniles. Manley said that, without a curfew, his officers wouldn’t be able to detain juveniles found in crime-ridden neighborhoods late at night.
Manley said officers would still be able to approach youths and inquire about their safety, but nothing would prevent the child from walking away or refusing to answer questions. And if that situation suddenly escalated into a use-of-force scenario, he said, it could expose police officers and the Police Department to litigation.
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