Philadelphia City Council seems poised to enact a 10 p.m. curfew for minors this summer in what Council members described as an effort to keep young people safe amid an unrelenting gun violence crisis.
A bill to establish a curfew for those under 17, sponsored by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, received unanimous approval from the seven-member Committee on Public Safety Thursday morning. It’s teed up for a final vote next week in Council’s last meeting before summer recess.
“No one is suffering more than our young people in the city of Philadelphia,” Gilmore Richardson said during a morning hearing on the proposal. “They are our children, they are our babies.”
The mayor has signaled some concerns, while the Police Department and Department of Human Services have expressed support.
Philadelphia has had a youth curfew in place for decades, but experts who have studied such policies say they’re largely “pointless” and have no real impact on crime or victimization rates.
The proposed curfew would require all kids 14 to 17 to be home by 10 p.m. instead of midnight through the end of September. The curfew for kids 13 and younger will remain at 9:30 p.m.
Kids out past curfew may be stopped by police. Up until last year, they could be fined $250 for their first violation, then $300 to $500.
Now, they are not to be fined, and officers must make “every reasonable attempt” to return them home. If that’s not possible, they are taken to one of two Community Evening Resource Centers, in South or Southwest Philadelphia. There, the center’s staffers provide a meal, and connect them with programming and resources until a parent or guardian picks them up.
Two additional resource centers are slated to open this summer in the Northwest and Central sections of the city. If a young person is picked up in a district without a resource center, and cannot be taken home, police will take them to a Department of Human Services center or the local police station.
As of June 9, 914 minors curfew violations have been issued this year, up from the 445 violations this time last year, police said. Nearly a quarter of the violations this year have come from the 12th Police District in Southwest Philly, data show.
Inspector Francis Healy, adviser to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, said during Thursday’s hearing that the department “fully supports the amendment.”
“If we can save one kid from being shot out there, this is a huge win and well worth all our effort,” Healy said.
The new curfew measure was introduced just days after a mass shooting earlier this month, when a fight between three men devolved into gunfire on South Street. As the men shot at each other, two teens — ages 17 and 18 ― pulled out their guns and aimlessly fired into a crowd. Fourteen people were shot, three fatally.
In the aftermath, business owners on the block complained about large groups of teens congregating, and asked for a stronger police presence.
Researchers of curfews, though, say they do little to curb crime or victimization rates, and are often used as knee-jerk reactions to a major crime event.
“They feel good for officials to do, but they have no effect on crime, and possibly even a negative effect,” said Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco.
A 2016 study from the Campbell Collective, which reviewed 12 studies on juvenile curfews, said the efforts were not a “meaningful solution” to juvenile crime, and found that crime during curfew hours increased slightly and juvenile victimization did not change. A 2017 study on Washington, D.C.’s, juvenile curfew also found that shootings increased during the curfew hours, which researchers say could be because fewer bystanders and witnesses were on the streets to deter crime.
Philadelphia has had a curfew on the books since 1955, but it was updated in 2011 under Mayor Michael Nutter to become more stringent. Last year, police stopped issuing citations and resource centers opened through Gilmore Richardson’s efforts.
Males said it’s difficult for police to distinguish kids’ ages, and curfews can open the door for negative interactions between police and young people.
David B. Wilson, who headed the Campbell Collective study and is a professor at George Mason University’s Criminology, Law and Society Department, said most juvenile crime and victimization occurs outside of curfew hours. Still, he said, curfews are seen as a low-cost, low-stakes effort that, intuitively, makes sense.
“People think about it as, well, what’s the harm if it helps a little bit?” he said. “But it’s actually a zero-sum game. If police are enforcing curfews, they’re not doing something else, and you have to think about whether that something else is more beneficial.”
This was a concern Mayor Jim Kenney raised when asked about the curfew bill last week, and his office said Thursday his position hasn’t changed.
“I’m not opposed to it in theory,” he said, “but I have to really make sure that we can do the operation without making us less safe.”
Gilmore Richardson said Philadelphia’s model is different from other cities because it calls for young people who break curfew to be connected with community resources, and not cited or punished.
“If we do nothing, folks are mad. If we do something, folks are mad,” she said. “At the end of the day, we must do something to try to save the lives of our young people. We are losing a whole generation. We can’t accept that.”
Of the 12,360 people shot in Philadelphia since 2015, 8% were juveniles. The majority — 54% — were ages 18 to 29, data show. Juveniles are shot at slightly higher rates in the summer months compared to the winter and fall, and most minors were shot between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m.
So far this year, 13% of those charged in nonfatal shootings were juveniles, a numberconsistent with figures from 2021 and slightly higher than in previous years, according to data from the District Attorney’s Office. In fatal shootings, 9% of those charged this year were juveniles, consistent with the previous two years but higher than in 2019 when juveniles made up only 3% of those charged in fatal shootings. Still, that remains lower than in 2015, when 12% of those charged were juveniles.
Because less than 20% of nonfatal shootings result in arrests, the DA’s Office said it’s unclear whether more juveniles are committing these crimes, or if more juveniles are being arrested for these crimes.
Regardless of whether curfews reduce juvenile crime, Gilmore Richardson said every life counts, and the effort is worth it: “I am willing to try every tool in our toolbox.”
Staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.