To keep its decades-old juvenile curfew on the books, the city is required to renew the related ordinance every three years. In December, it was revealed that the law would be allowed to expire on January 18. With a push from East Dallas and downtown Councilman Philip Kingston, officials had re-evaluated the usefulness of an ordinance that has disproportionately affected minorities and has not resulted in clear metrics proving its worth. In fact, as a group of a dozen organizations that included the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project wrote to city officials, the data show that curfews do not work.
At the time, City Manager T.C. Broadnax told Kingston that police were going to see how things went without the curfew, and then reassess, the Dallas Morning News reported.
But on Monday, with the law a few days from coming off the books, police officials were in front of the Public Safety & Criminal Justice committee to revisit reinstating the curfew. So too were a few community members. And a judge. By the end of the conversation, which was not lacking in support for the curfew, the direction from committee boiled down to this: the topic is headed toward a public hearing, and then police are going to craft a new recommendation. The curfew—which kicks in at 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on the weekends, plus a day-time restriction during school hours—may not be dead after all.
Why is this conversation just now happening? On Monday, that was North Dallas Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates’ question—at least it was one of them—for Police Chief Renee Hall. Hall answered that in July, when the topic last came before the committee, the action had been to push it down the line until it was set for expiration. In her telling, Hall took that to mean that the issue would be picked back up after it expired.
Kingston tells a different story. He says that Hall was asking to bring the issue forward last month, before Broadnax’s office decided against taking it up. What has happened between then and now, spurred by coverage from the DMN and others, is the proliferation of a bunch of misinformation aimed at getting police back their curfew, argues Kingston. Hence, the renewed push.
“We would be taking away a tool police could use to approach youth in a hopefully productive way,” said Councilman Adam McGough, who represents a northeastern portion of the city. Council members Casey Thomas, Rickey Callahan, and Kevin Felder similarly expressed either a favorable view toward the curfew or outright support.
Meanwhile, Councilman Omar Narvaez, who is not on the public safety committee but sat in on Monday, voiced concerns held by many who oppose juvenile curfews. He noted that people of color are disproportionately targeted with violations.
“There’s an over-representation of Latino youth in curfew citations,” Narvaez said. He pushed back on the notion that a curfew law added any real ability for police to help or not help youth. Executive Assistant Chief of Police David Pughes pointed out during his briefing, a lack of curfew will not preclude police from approaching kids. (“It’s not going to be a hands off approach,” he’d said).
That’s a whole other issue, because these types of random stops contribute to racial disparities in regard to things like drug offenses. It’s one reason District Attorney John Creuzot and other reform-minded criminal justice folks are pushing for the decriminalization of drug offenses. If you’re white, says Kingston, doing drugs is more or less legal. That led him to this conclusion about the curfew: “It’s completely and totally racist.”
Back to Narvaez. Adding to his displeasure is the fact that issuing tickets to children who are out at odd hours—perhaps not by their own choice—only compounds problems for struggling families. Narvaez’s District 6, in West Dallas, is home to a lot of struggling families. Since January 2017, the district received 91 curfew violations, compared to 35 in the next-highest district. Narvaez countered the community engagement in favor of curfews. “There’s community engagement to go a different route (also), so that our youth don’t end up in a system and end up with records beyond a curfew citation,” he said.
Gates says that if there is over-policing, it should be sent to her district. That’s what she says her constituents tell her they want. Of course, if the rules are enforced the same for all, those constituents would be dealing with the fallout from their kids’ sudden rise in drug offenses, fueled by random curfew checks outside movie theaters and fast-food restaurants. Then, maybe the tone changes.
We also don’t have data to show us anything definitive, at least if you ask police. Pughes says that police are able to look at how often kids are victims of crimes as well as the number of curfew citations issued in a given area. He does not claim a correlation between the two numbers. He says that metrics are tricky and that the committee is looking for a “silver bullet” to prove curfews work, but that no such bullet exists.
Not all would agree. Kingston says there is more than sufficient evidence to prove that curfews indeed do not work. The cities of Austin and Waco, for instance, have not seen juvenile crime or arrest rates increase since they dropped their curfews in 2014 and 2017, respectively, according to the data from the dozen organizations calling for the end of the curfew. Those organizations sent their recommendation to officials on December 5, prompting the initial decision to let the curfew expire.
And that is exactly what will happen, for now. As of Friday, Dallas police can no longer issue citations to kids who are out at wonky hours. But the discussion appears far from over.
“What I’m hearing is that we could do better and we could have a better policy,” said Gates. “But now we’re not going to have a policy at all.”
After the public hearings, the police department will put together an assessment of its findings. The topic can then return to committee for further deliberation among the council.