Dallas City Council debates reinstating juvenile curfew

Dallas' longtime curfew for juveniles has expired and there was a heated debate at city hall on Wednesday about whether or not to bring it back.

One side says the curfew protects children. The other side says it criminalizes them.

The curfew expired last Friday, making it the first time since 1991 that Dallas has been without one. Black and Latino council members were on opposite sides of this issue that some claim disproportionately impacts minorities. 

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata was clearly frustrated after listening to city council debate the merits of a juvenile curfew that says kids can't be out in the middle of the night without good reason.

"If you take this away, we will have an increase in crime and juvenile victims.  That's common sense, and we're lacking that in this building lately,” Mata said. “What am I going to do when we have that next drive-by shooting and that 13-year-old is killed because he or she is out at the wrong place at the wrong time but we didn't have a curfew enacted to do something about it. I'm coming, Griggs, Kingston, Narvaez. Individuals that voted against this. This is on you."

Opponents argued that the curfew unfairly criminalizes kids and impacts minorities far more than whites.

“Why, because it is affecting 90 percent youth of color.  77 percent were Latino youth,” said Councilman Omar Narvaez. “Is there a disparity? The data shows it. The data proves it.”

But black council members said their constituents want a curfew.

“I had two community meetings in my district,” said Councilman Tennell Atkins. “About 85-95 percent of the people in my district said we need a curfew.”

“This is about the safety of the youth, first. Second, the safety of the citizens,” said Councilman Kevin Felder.

Mata says parents support a curfew because it helps them.

“If they tell their child they can't be out, what's the child say? Why?” Mata said. “Parent goes to work. They're out the back door. This is about keeping kids from being crime victims — not making them criminals.”

Mata says without the ordinance police officers' hands are tied.

“Absolutely. We can go talk to anyone, but the problem is they don't have to talk to us,” he said. “We go up to those young males and females that are 13 and 4 and ask what are they doing out here. They can go tell us to pound sand and take off running. There is nothing we could do about it.”

In the end, council members voted to hold two public hearings about a curfew next month. The first will be at city hall at 9 a.m. on February 6. The second hearing will be at 6 p.m. on February 13 at Adamson High School.