Long-standing Dallas juvenile curfew set to expire next month

The Dallas City Council and the chief of police support letting a long-standing juvenile curfew ordinance expire next month.

One critic of the curfew is Councilman Philip Kingston. He says the curfew is unconstitutional and is a tool police can use to unfairly target minorities and underprivileged kids.

The juvenile curfew in Dallas first went into place in 1991. That was a time when juvenile crime was on the rise, and it was effective in getting kids to stop loitering.

Now, the debate is if the curfew is a tool of harassment or a kind of safety net for police to identify kids who may need help.

"We have very good data that curfews don't work,” Kingston said. “They don't keep kids safer. They don't reduce crime."

Kingston is vice chair of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee and believes juvenile curfews unconstitutional and unfairly target minority and underprivileged kids.    

"The Fourth Amendment does not have a minimum age,” he said. “You are entitled to make the police prove a reasonable suspicion before they investigate you for a crime."

The ordinance is set to expire next month. It prohibits kids 16 and under to be outside without an adult between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between midnight and 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata defends the ordinance and says it’s a means to curb criminal activity and a tool to help ensure child safety.

"We do not need to have 13,14 and 15-year-old kids running the streets at 3 a.m. in the morning.  It's not about them being criminals. It's about them being crime victims,” he said. “This allows us to make the child go home to where his parents are probably asleep and don't even know he's out. It prevented that same kid from possibly getting shot in the street."

The Dallas Police Department released a statement on Monday saying in part that “DPD is concerned with the disproportionate minority contact that occurs through enforcement of the curfew ordinance" and it “will explore programs that create alternatives for juveniles who might otherwise be in violation of the ordinance and become part of the legal system."

I think Chief Hall is doing a great disservice to the community and to the men and women that work this department because this is a very good tool to not only prevent crime, but even more prevent these young individuals from being crime victims,” Mata said.

"The only people this is enforced against are children that do not have other places to go,” Kingston said. “It criminalizes being poor."

Just because the ordinance expires, doesn't mean it can't be reinstated. City officials are indicating this is more of a "wait and see" scenario.

In the meantime, the Dallas Police Department is looking at other programs across the country to see what might work best here. There is no specific timeline when a modified or alternative program might be unveiled.