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City Council approves a permanent 10 p.m. curfew for Philly’s teens

If signed by the mayor, the bill would require teenagers 14 to 17 to be home by 10 p.m., and children ages 13 and younger to be home by 9:30.

Officers stands at 4th and South Streets by a barricade.
Officers stands at 4th and South Streets by a barricade.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia City Council on Thursday voted to impose a permanent 10 p.m. curfew for young people under the age of 18 in the city.

The city had enforced the 10 p.m. rule over the summer, moving the curfew from midnight and framing it as a way to keep children safe during the gun violence crisis. That legislation, championed by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, expired at the end of September.

But the new bill has no end date, meaning it will remain in place indefinitely. The legislation received near unanimous support from Council, and now heads to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for final approval before becoming law. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said Kenney was reviewing the legislation, but didn’t say whether he supported it or would sign it into law.

Philadelphia has had a youth curfew in place for decades. But experts who study curfews say they have little to no impact on juvenile crime or victimization rates.

And while the 10 p.m. curfew was in place over the summer, more children were shot than during any other summer on record, according to police statistics. Data show that, since 2015, just over a quarter of juvenile shooting victims were struck in the overnight hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The vast majority were injured in the hours before curfew.

Still, city leaders have said that during this unprecedented crisis, they must try everything to keep the city’s young people safe, and if it saves just one child’s life, it’s worth it.

“I’m not going to apologize for seeking to do all that I can to help our young people,” Gilmore Richardson has said.

If signed by the mayor, the measure would require teenagers 14 to 17 to be home by 10 p.m., and children ages 13 and younger to be home by 9:30. The curfew ends at 6 a.m.

A handful of exceptions are listed, including for children and teenagers accompanied by adults or guardians, those who have jobs or are attending school or religious activities, or kids hanging outside on their home’s stoop or sidewalk.

Philadelphia police are tasked with enforcing the rule. Officers who pick up children violating the curfew must first try to take them home. If that’s not possible or a guardian can’t be reached, police must take the child to a police district or to one of the city’s new community evening resource centers.

A long-used but controversial measure

Hundreds of cities have curfews in place, including Philadelphia, which has had one since 1955. It was updated in 2011 under Mayor Michael Nutter to become more stringent. Until last year, children and their parents faced a $250 fine for their first violation of the curfew, then $300 to $500 for subsequent violations. Council removed the penalties last year amid concerns that they disproportionately affected people living in poverty.

Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, a nonprofit that supports South Philadelphia families, said the city’s attempt to keep kids safe is noble, but ultimately, parents have to be responsible for their children.

“We’re pointing the finger at the wrong people. Parents have to step up,” said Moore, who also leads a carpentry academy for kids ages 14 to 19.

Moore said most young people don’t care about the curfew, and parents have to enforce it to keep their kids safe.

“This is a parenting issue,” he said. “If you don’t want the negative interaction, have your kids in the house. People blame the police, but kids are being killed. Women are being murdered. This is not a game.”

Some researchers of curfews, though, say there’s little evidence that the policies help reduce crime or keep young people safer.

“The research has been overwhelming and unanimous in dozens and dozens of cities that curfews don’t work, and they make things worse, if anything,” said Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.

A 2016 report that reviewed 12 studies on juvenile curfews found that crime during curfew hours increased slightly and juvenile victimization did not change. And a 2017 study on the juvenile curfew in Washington, D.C. found that shootings increased during the restricted hours, which researchers say could be because fewer bystanders and witnesses were on the streets to deter crime.

Councilmember David Oh was the sole vote against the local measure, saying the city already has a curfew that is not well-enforced. Requiring an already short-staffed police force to transport kids who might not be causing trouble home is a waste of resources, he said.

Plus, it comes at a time when the city is seeking to limit unnecessary interactions between residents and police, he said. Young people want access to resources and opportunities, he said, not to be wantonly stopped by the police.

“It builds animosity between police and the community,” he said.

Gilmore Richardson, though, has said curfew enforcement is an opportunity to connect with at-risk kids and offer resources, especially if they visit the evening resource centers.

There are four such centers, which are run by neighborhood groups but funded by the city, located in North, Northwest, South, and Southwest Philly. They’re are open from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., offering activities and support to young people.

Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, which oversees the centers, said that from January through August, the centers served more than 700 children, though the majority went voluntarily and were not brought in by police after curfew violations.

“Whether they go to the center voluntarily or involuntarily, the point is ... they are now in a safe space and have access to resources,” Gilmore Richardson has said.

So far this year, police have issued nearly 2,100 curfew violations — nearly a quarter of them in Southwest Philadelphia’s 12th Police District, according to police data. Still, that falls short of the nearly 4,700 violations issued across the city in 2019, and nearly 5,000 violations in 2018.

The bill passed Thursday would also require the Police Department to draft a quarterly report on the number of minors who violate the curfew, noting their age, gender, race, location, and whether their guardian was reached. DHS is required to report how many minors used the centers, along with demographic information.