Curfew laws keep juveniles’ rights in the dark

by Sheridan Reed

The Escondido Police Department issued a curfew sweep for minors last week. The citywide ordinance prohibits minors from being out on the streets from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. According to the police department’s website, 25 juveniles were arrested as a result of the enforcement—18 male and seven female. All of those arrested were eventually released to their parents or guardians, but not before being issued a ticket.

Before release, 16 of the juveniles were screened and referred to the EPD’s Diversion Program as an effort to “improve” their decision-making abilities. The remaining minors were referred to juvenile court.

This doesn’t seem to be the greatest use of police resources. I imagine the police department must really believe these kids pose a threat to society in order to validate this enforcement. Either that or the EPD could just be bored. Between 1990 and 2010, violent crimes in Escondido decreased approximately 36 percent, and nonviolent crimes decreased by more than 50 percent. However, I find it hard to understand why these kids breaking curfew is such a concern when there are other, more serious crimes.

There could be a few different rationales behind this crackdown, one being the notion that minors staying out late in the streets encourages a type of criminal culture and influences kids to make poor decisions. The first part of this idea comes from genuine concern, which I understand. But the police may be crossing the line in this matter.

According to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a democratic government only works as a social contract. This contract is an agreement or understanding between the people and their representatives, a tenuous bond constantly stretched and tested. There’s a large gray area where the government may or may not be encroaching on the rights of its citizens, and I would wholeheartedly say curfew is an encroachment. I understand that we don’t live in a utopian society without crime and social problems. There is crime, there are problems; but some problems are private and shouldn’t be the government’s concern.

Parents should be the ones to set curfews for their children, if they so choose. Unless minors are an active plague on society by breaking the law or menacing others, I don’t see the problem in kids staying out late. If citizens allow the government to place curfews or other restrictions, at what point does it stop?

If the police tried to instate a curfew for adults, there would be an uproar. No town would stand for the government encroaching upon citizens’ rights. The same should apply to children. Teenagers—and their parents—can be incompetent when it comes to making smart decisions about curfews, but the government shouldn’t assume control immediately. A curfew for minors is essentially the government stepping in and claiming parents aren’t responsible enough to take care of their kids.

What is so harmful about being out late anyway? I recall, in high school and even in middle school, hanging out with friends or going on a walk or a run late at night because it was nice—I found peace then. There’s a negative assumption that goes along with a night culture, but from my experience, those stereotypes aren’t always justified. Rather than arresting and sentencing these young people to juvenile hall or a diversion program, the city should create community centers open late as safe environments for minors. While not all may go, it would provide a safe alternative without resorting to arrests, tickets or allowing the police to step in where they don’t belong.