As if St. Petersburg police aren't busy enough, City Council member Karl Nurse wants them to become babysitters. Nurse wants the city to adopt an 11 p.m. curfew on school nights for those 16 years old or younger. The police would pick up teens and take them home or to a recreation center, wasting time and law enforcement resources. Curfews for teens are of dubious constitutionality in Florida, and St. Petersburg should drop the idea.
Every now and then after a spike in juvenile crime or a high-profile crime involving a teen, there is a call for a teen curfew. In this instance it is generated by 16-year-old Nicholas Lindsey, who is charged in the shooting death of Officer David Crawford. Lindsey, was the spark, according to Nurse, though he says he already had been considering pushing for a curfew.
Juvenile curfews are politically popular because they appear to be inexpensive quick fixes. But they create a host of problems without addressing the complex social issues that cause juvenile crime. Without a laundry list of exceptions, curfews don't take into account all the legitimate reasons why a young person may be out at 11 p.m., including returning from their own babysitting job, a church function or other school- or work-related obligation. And there are always dangers that curfews will be enforced more vigorously in poorer neighborhoods, leading to charges of discrimination.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled juvenile curfews in Pinellas Park and Tampa were unconstitutional in 2004. The court was troubled by the idea of converting young people into criminals simply for being in public at a certain time of day.
Nurse's proposed curfew would not have had any effect on the Crawford shooting, which occurred at 10:30 p.m. And his rationale that a curfew will help identify kids who don't have responsible parents is not reason enough to turn nighttime police patrols into nanny shifts. Nurse plans to bring up the issue at Thursday's City Council meeting. Curfews are failed social experiments that are burdensome on police and collectively punish young people engaged in innocent conduct. The discussion should end there.