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On eve of new curfew, teens say law's unfair

As she sat on a bench along Seventh Avenue in Ybor City late Friday, Danielle Morris, 15, knew her days of hanging out were numbered.

And she didn't like it one bit.

"It doesn't make sense," she said, in one of her milder reactions to the city curfew that soon will prevent her and her teenage friends from spending late nights on Tampa's streets.

Adopted in 1994 and revised nine days ago, the curfew bars youths 16 and under from city streets after 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Saturdays and Sundays. Police did not enforce it initially because of fears it would not pass constitutional challenge.

That will change overnight.

At 12:01 a.m. Sunday, 21 Tampa police officers will sweep every juvenile they find off the streets of Ybor City, take them to a holding area at Hillsborough Community College and call their parents to pick them up.

Police leaders say the time for warnings has passed. They chose Ybor City because of the number of complaints about juvenile crime and the number of bars in the area, Maj. John Bushell said. He said he wants parents to see where their children hang out.

"You can't mix adult drinking and kids," he said.

The curfew law is designed to protect youths from crime and prevent them from becoming criminals, Bushell said. Other areas, such as the beach at the end of Cypress Street and the intersection of Fowler and Nebraska avenues, will be targeted in later weeks.

But many youths say they don't want to be protected at the expense of what they consider to be their rights.

Danielle and her friend Jennifer Omenhiser come to Ybor every other weekend, mostly to shop, watch people and meet friends. They said their parents know where they are and expect them to be home by 1 a.m. On Friday night, as they sat along Seventh Avenue, they explained why they don't think the curfew law makes sense.

"Most of the kids under 17, they don't do most of the crimes," said Jennifer, of Tampa. At 17, she doesn't have to worry about the curfew, but most of her friends do.

"It's mostly drunk 21-year-olds," added Danielle, who lives in Seminole.

They're not alone. The American Civil Liberties Union views juvenile curfews as unworkable violations of young people's constitutional rights, and the organization has challenged them in other cities.

More than 1,000 communities already have juvenile curfews, including 146 of the nation's 200 largest cities. Tampa's revised law is based on those which have survived constitutional challenges.

Police have made every effort to publicize the curfew through the media and waited a week after the revised law took effect to let the public get used to the idea.

"We don't want to wake up any parents at 3 in the morning and have them say, "What curfew?'

" said Steve Cole, a Tampa police spokesman.

Bushell said he thinks most young people who walk the streets of Ybor will go home tonight when they see police are serious. "If we don't pick up any kids, it's successful."

That's what Danielle plans to do. She said she won't challenge the law, as much as she would like to. "I'd want to just to p--- them off, but I don't feel like dealing with it," she said.

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