Potential violators of the city’s curfew ordinance — aimed at keeping kids safe by keeping them off the streets at night — could receive counseling as part of a new pilot program that launched this summer.
Parents whose kids are caught out after curfew hours could be required to attend a new counseling program aimed at preventing future violations.
The ordinance, authored by Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), was approved in April by the City Council and went into effect June. It provides for an administrative hearing to determine whether children and their parents should attend the social service program.
The ordinance, however, does not change existing curfew hours — from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day, Sunday through Thursday for children ages 12-16; and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. For kids under 12, their curfew runs from 8:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following day, Sunday through Thursday, and from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The pilot program launched in the 10th, 11th, 15th and 25th police districts, but Graham hopes to expand it citywide. The counseling is administered by Austin-based Hartgrove Hospital. A hospital spokesperson said the program was still too new for adequate data to have been collected in evaluating its success.
But the program is not aimed at “getting anybody off the hook,” Graham insists. Curfew violators could still face a fine or community service, Graham said. First-time violators pay a $500 fine, which can increase up to $1,500 for additional violations.
Police in those four districts are able to send information about potential curfew violators to Hartgrove. The program looks to determine the circumstance of why a child was picked up — whether a runaway, committing crimes, suffering from mental or substance abuse, or other issues.
The hospital assesses the police’s violation report and then meets with the family to discuss possible solutions.
“We need a policy in place that directly helps families,” Graham said.
But according to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), the fines can be an effective deterrent for some curfew violators; but for those unable to pay, the fine does little good.
“A person with no job, what can you get from them,” she said. “I want to see a system that works on something to educate the youth to make them understand what they were doing is wrong.”
15th District Cmdr. Barbara West added that her district alone has picked up roughly 200 kids for curfew violations in the two months since the pilot program launched — that’s about 100 less than last year around this time. West stressed that it’s too early to tell if this decline is due to the pilot program or other factors.
“It’s likely that parents are being more cognizant of curfew times,” she said.
For those who do not respond to Hartgrove, West said they’re referred back to the police.
As to how many people have attended or been referred to the program so far — or whether the program is helping to reduce violations — Graham did not have that information. But she noted that the counseling approach has been successful in other cities like Denver and Minneapolis.