Curfew changes give Blackwell Police more discretion ; teeth to fight juvenile crime

by Charles Gerian

The City of Blackwell’s curfew ordinance was changed last week for the first time in decades, a move that city officials hope will help police crackdown on juvenile crime.

The altered ordinance, Chief of Police Dewayne Wood said, will allow the Blackwell Police Department to examine curfew violations on a case-by-case basis, easing off the strict black-and-white policies in the ordinance which had remained largely unchanged since the 1980s and before.

“This will put curfew cases in the officers’ hands, much like a speeding ticket,” Wood said.

“It’s very circumstantial. When you get pulled over for speeding, there’s a lot of variables. It’s not something you automatically get handed a ticket for. There’s questions like: ‘How fast were you going? Where are you? Are you in a neighborhood or on a busy street?’ That’s the same angle we’re taking with curfews.” Wood continued:

“There’s a substantial difference between an officer seeing little Johnny leaving a friend’s house late at night, walking home a few houses down after a movie, or an officer seeing a group of kids at 3 in the morning in an area where we’ve had reported vandalism and car break-ins. Under the old ordinance, it was very, ‘Here’s what you do, here’s how you do it,’ and a lot of language where the officer would have to take the juvenile to the P.D., hand him and the related incident over to a specified juvenile officer. … These are things our department hasn’t had in ages. … This streamlines things for us and everyone involved.”

The new ordinance also calls for differentiating the rules for 16- and 17-year olds versus those 15 and under.

For 16- and 17-year-olds, the curfew is 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. For those 15 and under, it is 11 p.m. every day of the week.

For juveniles violating curfew, the charge will be $200 not counting court fees.

“Once again, I want to stress that this isn’t a blanket thing,” Wood said. “If a kid gets pulled over at, say, midnight because he’s coming home from an out-of-town sports game or tournament, we’re not going to write him a fine. If they’re coming home from work late, or if a kid is going to Casey’s or something to grab milk or something for mom, dad, grandma, whatever … these are all different scenarios.”

At Thursday’s City Council meeting when the ordinance revision was passed, Wood said another major factor in the ordinance was to give the department “more teeth” to combat the rise of juvenile delinquency.

“Within the last two years, juvenile crime has skyrocketed,” Wood said.

“We had three different instances in particular, two of which were major crime sprees – cars being stolen, vandalism, alcohol possession, narcotics. Six kids racked up 100 different charges in one night. That’s what we’re aiming to fight here.”

When asked what could be attributed to the spike in juvenile crime, Wood said he didn’t know.

“It’s just one of those things that you can never predict or get a read on ‘why’ or ‘how,’” he said.