December 29, 2013

Dalton to examine its underage curfew ordinance

Rachel Brown

— Dalton City Council members in the coming months will likely revisit a local ordinance that prohibits anyone under 18 years old from being out in public without their parents or guardians between midnight and 5 a.m.

Council member Gary Crews said someone recently brought to his attention some concerns about the ordinance, and City Attorney Jim Bison has been asked to look into the matter. Crews said he wasn’t fully aware of what the ordinance entailed until someone contacted him with questions about it.

According to Dalton Police Department records, police have issued 288 citations for teens and other minors violating the local ordinance and another 11 for violating a state law prohibiting minors from “wandering” or “loitering about” public places between midnight and 5 a.m. Most of the violations occurred after 1 a.m., records show. Most, according to Chief Jason Parker, occurred in conjunction with some other violation.

In recent months, city officials were told that at least one local teen was cited only for violating the curfew and ordered to pay a fine of several hundred dollars despite being a first-time offender with an otherwise good record. The teen was reportedly giving a sibling a ride shortly before 1 a.m.

Crews, who is the council’s liaison to Municipal Court, said officials are still researching the details of both the local ordinance and the state law. He couldn’t immediately say what changes he thinks the council will consider, but he said officials will likely await input from members of the Public Safety Commission, police department representatives and the city attorney.

Crews said he didn’t know what prompted officials to pass the ordinance back in the 1980s. The decision far pre-dates any of the current council members’ time in office.

“We are looking into it and getting it updated to where it does make sense in today’s technology,” Crews said. “I think it is an opportunity for us to update and an opportunity for us to understand.”

The ordinance states that anyone under age 18 “shall be off the city streets and out of all public places after 12 midnight, unless such persons shall be in the company of their parents or guardian.” It doesn’t state when the curfew ends, but police department spokesman Bruce Frazier said it references a portion of the state code that lists a 5 a.m. end time.

“Under one of the definitions of ‘unruly child’ (in state law), it defines it as any juvenile who ‘wanders or loiters about the streets of any city, or in or about any highway or any public place, between the hours of 12 midnight and 5 a.m.,’” he said. ”Our municipal ordinance refers back to that section.”

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, hundreds of cities across the United States have or at one time had nighttime curfews with varying restrictions. Some specify exceptions to the curfew, allowing minors to be out for certain activities such as going to or from work.

Dalton’s ordinance states the chief of police must notify the parents or guardians of all first offenders. Multiple offenders under 17 must be cited to Juvenile Court while 17-year-olds must be cited to Municipal Court and be subject to a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail or up to six months “work on the public streets or public works.”