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If Largo really needs a curfew, prove it

Largo city Commissioner Marty Shelby had a sensible request: If a teen curfew is needed, as the Police Department and fellow commissioners seem to believe, could he see some statistics on teen arrests that prove it?

Good point, commissioner.

You would have thought that other Largo commissioners, who couldn't wait to jump on the curfew bandwagon, would have made a similar inquiry before closing their minds on the issue.

Most surprising, however, was the response Shelby got from the city manager's office. Providing the commission with a three-year history of juvenile crime in the city would take 80 hours of work. So City Manager Steve Stanton will ask the commission if it wants him to go to that trouble and expense.

Stanton and police Chief Jerry Bloechle should insist on providing such information to the commission before its members make such an important decision.

Teen crime in Largo is on the increase, the Police Department says.

But will a curfew make a difference? That is what Shelby wants to know. One thing he would like to see is the time of day juvenile crime is occurring.

Why is that important? The curfew would make it an ordinance violation for anyone younger than 18 to be away from home after midnight unless he is with an adult or traveling between work and home. But what if most teen crime is happening between 3 and 5 p.m.? How would a curfew help?

Bloechle is intent on having a curfew for his officers to wield as "another tool in our toolbox." He looks south to Pinellas Park, where police swear by their curfew. Maybe he should look north and ask why Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein doesn't want a teen curfew in his city.

"I doubt a curfew in Clearwater is manageable," Klein said.

That is because if his officers have to play babysitter to otherwise law-abiding teenagers, they will have less time for their other duties, Klein said.

The only way for a curfew to work, he said, is if it is countywide. Otherwise, when teens are getting hassled in Largo, they'll just move on to Clearwater or another city. And so on.

Klein should know something about managing teenagers. One of their most popular hangouts is Clearwater Beach. Klein said his department has been able to keep the beach under control with existing laws. Teens can be arrested if they are trespassing on private property, disturbing the peace on public property or drinking.

Most teens are law-abiding and just want to hang out and talk. "If there are police officers around, they generally behave themselves," Klein said.

The way to answer the juvenile crime problem is to intervene early in troubled families, he said. Once an out-of-control child is a teenager, he is difficult to salvage.

So if Largo residents think a curfew will solve all their problems with teens, they are setting themselves up for disappointment.

A majority of Largo commissioners seem intent on passing a curfew. Before they do, they should let Shelby see the records he has requested and make his best argument. It wouldn't hurt if they gave Chief Klein a call, as well.

A curfew is not something to rush into without giving it sufficient thought and debate.