Sometime this morning, we expect the Dallas City Council to approve a daytime curfew for minors under the age of 17, which, according to the ordinance, will "help combat truancy, thereby reducing juvenile crime, juvenile violence, and juvenile gang activity occurring in the city during school hours."
Despite opposition from the local ACLU, Citizens Against the Dallas Daytime Curfew and Angela Hunt, Mayor Tom Leppert strongly supports the 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. curfew in an attempt to lower the city's daytime crime statistics. And, as a politico recently told me, "Our mayor doesn't support issues unless he has the votes."
So with approval the ordinance inevitable, we spoke with Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle to find out if he could allay some of the concerns coming from the anti-curfew crowd. He says DPD officers already have the ability to stop minors suspected of ditching school, so the ordinance won't be a burden for the police department. Of course, for some opponents, that's exactly the point -- why do we need a curfew if officers are already taking care of the problem?
"Certainly more kids will go to school rather than skip school because of the fear of getting a citation," Kunkle tells Unfair Park. "And I think it could be helpful for those parents who are trying to do everything they can do get their kids to school -- to have some more leverage over their children about why they should be at school because they can get a citation for not having gone."
During one of the public hearings about the curfew, Hunt made the point that since men commit a disproportionate amount of crimes when compared to women, shouldn't there be a curfew for men to curtail crime? In other words, is this ordinance too overreaching by punishing a large segment of the population for the sins of a few?
"I don't think anyone's being punished because they are supposed to be in school," he says. "We've always had different laws that restrict what young people can do as opposed to adults."
Kunkle says a mechanism is under development that will likely use the city's dispatch system to verify whether the or not the child should be in school. A lot of people have been concerned regarding home-schooled children, but he says any fears are unlikely to materialize, citing last year's controversial towing ordinance as an example.
"I've not received a single complaint on either side," he says of towing vehicles without proof of insurance.
Dallas police officers have "exercised good discretion," Kunkle says, regarding the nighttime curfew already in place. Officers aren't issuing a lot of citations, but the curfew is influencing behavior, which is what the daytime ordinance aims to do.
"I think it will be like a lot of the other city ordinances passed, which help define standards of what's appropriate behavior, but there's not a lot of enforcement associated with it," he says. "Like the motorcycle helmet ordinance and pooper-scooper ordinance, there's not much enforcement, but I'm guessing that more people carry bags and pick up after their pets after the ordinance than they did before."
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Kunkle has often brought up his son Mike while supporting the curfew. While he stresses that Mike "turned out OK," Kunkle says he would get calls 15 minutes after he dropped Mike off at high school asking why he wasn't in class. "I don't know if it would have made any difference with him, but it could have."
He's convinced the curfew will be helpful, but to what degree, he doesn't know. "I certainly don't think it's the answer, but it should be helpful dealing with the truancy issue, the dropout issue, crime and other inappropriate activity kids can engage in when they should be in school but they're not," Kunkle says.
As currently written, the ordinance imposes a class C misdemeanor penalty on the minor for the offense with a fine not to exceed $500, and the child's parent or owner, operator or employee of a public business is also subject to the penalty after receiving two written violations in a calendar year. Here are the defenses:
- the minor was accompanied by the minor's parent or guardian;
- the minor was on an errand at the direction of the minor's parent or guardian, without any detour or stop;
- the minor was in a motor vehicle involved in interstate travel;
- the minor was engaged in an employment activity, or going to or returning home from an employment activity, without any detour or stop;
- the minor was involved in an emergency;
- the minor was attending an official school, religious, or other recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by the city of Dallas, a civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor, or going to or returning home from, without any detour or stop, an official school, religious, or other recreational activity supervised by adults and sponsored by the city of Dallas, a civic organization, or another similar entity that takes responsibility for the minor;
- the minor was exercising First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution, such as the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, and the right of assembly;
- the minor was married or had been married or had disabilities of minority removed in accordance with Chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code;
- the school in which the minor was enrolled or otherwise required to attend was not in session;
- the minor was on the premises of the school in which the minor was enrolled or otherwise required to attend;
- the minor was participating in a school-approved work study program, or was going to the work study program or returning to home or school from the work study program without any detour or stop;
- the minor was on a lunch break from a school that permits an open campus lunch and was qualified to participate in the open campus lunch program;
- the minor was on an excused absence from the school in which the minor was enrolled or otherwise required to attend and had permission from a school official, or, in the case of a home-schooled minor, from the minor's parent or guardian; or
- the minor was a high school graduate or had received a high school equivalency certificate.