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Teen Curfew: One Bad Idea

Teen Curfew: One Bad Idea

Are you really comfortable with an armed police officer potentially confronting your child anytime they are out a little late?

BY DAN KLEIN

In my two decades in law enforcement, one thing I learned is that when politicians run out of ideas for solving a problem facing our society, they throw the police at it.

One of the latest and worst examples of this kind of knee-jerk, uninspired policy-making in New Mexico is the proposed teen curfew bill at the Legislature. As a retired Albuquerque Police Department sergeant with extensive patrol experience during the graveyard shift, I am here to tell you that teen curfews are a bad idea. Not just bad for the teens, but bad for their families, our communities and our police officers.

First of all, there are serious constitutional concerns that everyone should have when it comes to passing laws that target people simply for being young and in public. Teen curfew laws have been struck down by courts on constitutional grounds in Alaska, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Indiana.

Given the current state of New Mexico’s economy, we can’t afford to pour money down the drain on policies that are unenforceable, put our kids at risk by forcing unnecessary confrontations with police officers, and drive a wedge between police and members of the community.

Before the New Mexico Supreme Court struck it down as illegal, Albuquerque had a teen curfew law on the books for a short period during my tenure at APD. Here’s a confession: I never enforced it. I cannot name one officer who did enforce it.

Why?

Because we simply had more important work to do than pulling over people whose only crime was “looking young” while driving to work the graveyard shift, returning from a study group, visiting family, or any one of a thousand other legitimate late-night activities.

We knew our job was to focus on people, without prejudice to age, who were actually behaving suspiciously or committing crimes – not investigating every kid out past their bed time. Probable cause should never be built upon what someone looks like, but on their activities. You don’t need a curfew law for that.

Even if officers were made to strictly enforce a teen curfew, would you really want them to?

Are you really comfortable with an armed police officer potentially confronting your child anytime they are out a little late?

Teenagers don’t always have the best judgment in these situations and might panic and run. In seconds, a simple curfew violation stop could turn into a foot chase between an officer and a terrified kid. The shooting death of James Boyd in the Albuquerque foothills is a chilling reminder of how quickly a routine police encounter can escalate to the use of deadly force.

Plus, think about the number of Taser abuses by APD, as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice. Do you want your child to potentially be Tased by an officer when the child’s only offense was being out late? That is the unforeseen consequences of these types of bad laws. Even if we could guarantee a safe outcome for every single curfew encounter, we’d still be creating negative police experiences and eroding young people’s trust and respect for law enforcement. That’s not community policing looks like.

Teen curfews don’t actually do anything to reduce teen crime rates. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the vast majority of juvenile crime occurs during non-curfew hours, peaking at around three in the afternoon. It’s no surprise then that multiple academic studies over the years have shown that curfews are ineffective at reducing teen crime. Teen curfew laws are political theater, plain and simple.

The bottom line here is that cops can’t play mom and dad to every kid in New Mexico, nor should they be expected to. It’s not fair to law enforcement, and it’s not fair to the parents who have the right to make decisions about what is right for their own kids.

Police are going to continue to focus on catching criminals, regardless of their age. We don’t need ill-conceived curfew laws to help with that. What we do need are legislators with the courage and creativity to explore solutions to societal problems outside of the same old, tired “lock-em-up” mentality that has failed us for decades.

Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him via Facebook.

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Dan Klein

Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him via Facebook and Twitter via @dankleinabq.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.