Austin City Council ends juvenile curfew, starting Sunday

Sept 29, 2017
Ralph Barrera
A teen is shown at a juvenile court hearing. The Austin City Council has ended the city’s overnight curfew.

The Austin City Council has killed the city’s juvenile curfew, ending an ordinance that has been on the books since 1990 that allowed police to charge children found out after 11 p.m. and before 6 a.m. with a crime.

Many had called for the end of the curfew in June, when the council temporarily extended it and asked a stakeholder group to examine the policy. The curfew will expire Sunday.

READ: Austin police chief to urge City Council to nix juvenile curfew

Cheyann Morris, a 17-year-old student at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin, said even children sometimes need to leave their homes late at night because they might be trying to flee a dangerous situation.

“They should be able to do what they have to do even if it means taking a walk at 3 o’clock in the morning just to get away,” said Morris, whose remarks evoked applause from the gallery in the City Council Chambers.

The nighttime curfew made it a misdemeanor for anyone under 17 to be out in public or in a business between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. In June, the council put an end to the city’s daytime curfew, which had been in effect between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days.

From 2014 to 2016, 85 percent of the 2,123 juveniles cited for a curfew violation were first-time offenders, while 10 percent were second-time offenders and 5 percent had violated the curfew three times or more.

Only 88 citations led to a conviction in municipal court. The maximum penalty was a fine of $500, but only a scant few of the citations resulted in fines. Most ended with judges requiring the juvenile to perform community service or another alternative, according to Austin police.

For many, the most troubling part of the curfew was that it led to criminal charges against juveniles that might push them toward the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

“We don’t believe the curfew solves problems,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the teacher and staff union for the Austin school district.

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The council’s vote to deny renewal of the curfew was unanimous, with Council Member Ellen Troxclair absent.

Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley originally had been in support of renewing the curfew, but over the course of the past several months, he changed his mind about the ordinance. At Thursday’s meeting, Manley said that the 14 curfew violations police found since the ordinance was temporarily renewed in June all originated from police interactions that weren’t triggered by police investigating curfew violations.

Instead, police ended up speaking with those juveniles during other police actions, like traffic stops.

“The ordinance did not have any impact on our ability to handle those incidences,” he said.

Manley said Austin police are now collecting monthly data on when juveniles commit crimes or are victims of crime. If that data show a spike that police can attribute to the end of the curfew, he said he would return to the council to possibly request that it be reinstated.