Wednesday, September 14, 2011

council committee reviews leggett's proposed curfew tomorrow

World Cup Fever On Ellsworth
County Executive Leggett says teens need to stay home so we can keep downtown Silver Spring safe.

Tomorrow, the County Council's Public Safety committee reviews County Executive Leggett's proposed youth curfew, which would bar teens under 18 from being out after 11pm during the week and midnight on weekends. Over the past two months, curfew opponents (myself included) have offered many reasons why this is a bad idea:

There isn't enough for teens to do. We don't expect midnight basketball to prevent youth-related crime, but having activities for young people will give them an alternative to causing trouble. The "youth cafes" Councilmember Nancy Navarro started at the East County Community Center are a good start, as are long-standing plans to open a teen center in downtown Silver Spring. In Richmond, organizers of a "First Fridays" art walk set up an art gallery for teens to give youth a venue of their own.

There are also "private sector" solutions. The D.C. area's had a long tradition of "punk houses" that host shows, providing youth a forum for expression and a sense of community. We know of two in East County: Scumbag Nation in Colesville and the Corpse Fortress in Fenton Village, which was recently condemned by county building inspectors.

There are more effective solutions. Our friends Abigail Burman and Leah Muskin-Pierret at Stand Up to the Montgomery County Curfew have uncovered plenty of studies showing how curfews don't work. Baltimore's had a curfew for decades, and even they admit it hasn't done much. And Lt. Robert Carter of the police department's 3rd District, which includes Silver Spring, says a curfew would eliminate only a "quarter" of area crime, and offered a list of additional crime-fighting tools, ranging from harsher penalties to more funding for gang prevention programs. Lt. Carter noted that there are just six cops assigned to downtown Silver Spring, compared to 28 in the 1990's. A larger police presence, particularly on foot and bikes, would have a huge impact on crime.

Silver Spring resident Jim Zepp, who's spent twenty years researching criminal justice for the Justice Research and Statistics Association, says there's a need to look at the entire "nighttime economy" in downtown Silver Spring as a means to reducing crime. He points to Nighttime Economy Management studies, like this one from San Jose, as a way to understand and fight the root causes of youth crime.

Fear has seized the discussion. In the face of considerable evidence against a curfew's effectiveness, County Executive Leggett says he could "debunk" any study he doesn't agree with. Even the police department's own statistics that show crime, and especially youth-related crime, has been falling in MoCo for years. On his new blog Maryland Juice, political consultant David Moon suggests that Leggett has drawn attention to the "flash mob robbery" in Germantown last month as proof we need a curfew, despite the fact that most of the kids involved were first-time offenders. These are isolated incidents. Downtown Silver Spring is safe, and as it grows, they'll be even safer because there's more people out to provide "eyes on the street." In my opinion, Silver Spring's reputation has been harmed more by the County Executive's eagerness to highlight the July 2nd stabbing than by the public's actual perception of crime.

Councilmember Phil Andrews of Rockville, a strong opponent of the curfew proposal, happens to chair the Public Safety committee, The other two members are Councilmember Roger Berliner of Bethesda, who seems skeptical of the curfew, and at-large Councilmember Marc Elrich, who tentatively supports it. Though Leggett tells the Post that he's confident the curfew will pass when it goes before a vote this November, we hope it'll face serious examination during tomorrow's committee meeting.

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