To date, Dallas has renewed the curfew ordinance every three years without fail, and the city's expected to extend it again. Texas law requires a review of such ordinances every three years. City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance next month.
On Monday, DPD Assistant Chief Jesse Reyes told the council's Public Safety Committee that main goals of the curfew are to reduce overall crime committed by juveniles, decrease the number of juvenile victims of violent crime and improve juveniles' behavior.
In April 1996, when Bill Clinton was president, the Department of Justice published a report that recommended curfews as a way to combat the "rising juvenile delinquency and victimization" supposedly happening at the time. By 2009, some 84% of cities with more than 180,000 residents had juvenile curfews in place, according to The Marshal Project, an online publication.
In Dallas, the curfew has changed throughout the years. In May 2009, the city tacked on daytime curfew hours. In February 2019, curfew penalties were decriminalized. Nowadays, such penalties are handled in community courts.
The current ordinance says people younger than 17 can’t be out between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays when they should presumably be in school. Sunday through Thursday, they’re not allowed out from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. On the weekends, the curfew hours change to midnight to 6 a.m.
First-time curfew violators get a warning. After that, the curfew is enforced with citations, and penalties and services are assigned through the community courts.
“I want to emphasize that this is a tool we’ve had in our toolbox for many years, and we want to maintain that tool … to do a better job at fighting crime." – Jesse Reyes, Dallas Police Department
Of course, there are exceptions. If a youngster is out with their parent or legal guardian, for instance, the curfew rules don't apply. They're also not applicable when the minor is running an errand for their parents or guardians, or in the case of an emergency. On weekdays, the curfew is lifted for school holidays or when a student has an excused absence or is participating in a school-approved work study program.
The number of citations given out for curfew violations in Dallas drastically decreased after they were decriminalized in 2019.
In 2018, the city handed out 286 citations for curfew violations. Since the ordinance was amended and renewed in 2019, the city has only issued 64 citations and 27 warnings. In that time, Reyes said the overall count of juvenile victims has been reduced. In 2019, there were 535 juvenile victims, compared to 361 this year.
Reducing juvenile victimization is one goal these curfews have struggled to achieve. In 2016, Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit that conducts research for policymakers, released a review of literature on juvenile curfews. The group looked at 7,000 studies for this review.
The report said “evidence suggests that juvenile curfews are ineffective at reducing crime and victimization. The average effect on juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime — and close to zero for crime during all hours. Similarly, juvenile victimization also appeared unaffected by the imposition of a curfew ordinance.”
While the number of juvenile victims has decreased in Dallas, victimization increasingly took place during the curfew hours. In 2019, about 39% of juvenile victimization occurred during curfew hours, compared with 44% in 2020 and 42% this year.
DPD hopes the City Council will vote to approve the renewal of the curfew in late January. “I want to emphasize that this is a tool we’ve had in our toolbox for many years, and we want to maintain that tool … to do a better job at fighting crime,” Reyes told the committee.
Two public hearings over the renewal must take place before then. These will likely happen during the City Council’s regular meetings.
“The most important question that needs to be answered is how do Dallas civilians view the curfews across the city,” Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chair of the Community Police Oversight Board, told the Observer. “If even one community gets targeted, that is one too many.”
Some crime data has suggested this tool can have a negative effect on police-community relations and disproportionately target minority communities.
In 2017, for example, then-Austin Police Chief Brian Manley had a change of heart on juvenile curfews. Though he previously supported the renewal of Austin’s curfew, after reviewing crime data, he recommended against it.
Before then, violators of the Austin curfew could be charged with a misdemeanor and get stuck with a $500 fine. Most of the citations for the curfew handed out by Austin police in 2016 went to 15- and 16-year-olds who lived in the poorest parts of the city. Black people were given 17% of nighttime the violations and 15% of daytime violations. However, they make up 8% of the city’s population.
Council member Jaime Resendez said he wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case in Dallas. Resendez said he’s generally opposed to taking “harmful and punitive approaches to what could be serious underlying issues,” but the stats provided by DPD suggest that the curfew is working.
“If even one community gets targeted, that is one too many.” – Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., Community Police Oversight Board
“When I would think about it previously, I would think about my experience here in southeast Dallas, and sometimes as a juvenile, I would be out late at night, not necessarily doing anything bad,” Resendez said. “I hated thinking about if I came in to contact with a Dallas police officer and that would be my interaction with them, it would be in a negative light.”
But he thinks decriminalizing the curfew violations went a long way in cutting down on that problem.
He asked for a demographic breakdown of who received the 64 citations in the last three years. According to DPD, 23 of those went to white juveniles, 22 were given to Black juveniles, and 18 went to Hispanic juveniles. Males made up a majority of the citations, clocking in at 42.
Resendez was happy to see that the demographics seemed pretty evenly split, but said it’s important to always keep this in mind. “In a lot of instances there’s a disproportionate impact on Black and brown youth,” Resendez said.
The National Youth Rights Association, a youth-led civil rights organization, has advocated for cities to abolish juvenile curfews. The group says the curfews violate the rights of young people, they’re ineffective at reducing crime, and they’re disproportionately enforced.
Austin isn't the only Texas city that has scrapped curfew rules in recent years.
Waco tossed its juvenile curfew in 2014. San Antonio did the same thing four years later and opened up a 24-hour “reengagement center” with social workers who can help kids who may be out late at night. In 2019, Texas lawmakers proposed bill that would prohibit cities and counties from setting juvenile curfews, but it failed during the legislative session.