Local News

March 16, 2014

Council to consider curfew changes

The Dalton City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on changes to its curfew law that would create exemptions for teens in a variety of situations from work to school functions to church events.

A city ordinance dating to the 1980s states that anyone under 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.” The law doesn’t explicitly state when the curfew ends, but officials say it references a state law barring children under 18 from “wandering” or “loitering about” city streets, highways and other public places between midnight and 5 a.m.

Dalton Police Department records show officers issued 288 citations to minors for violating the local ordinance between July 2009 and December 2013 and another 11 for violating the state law. Most of the violations were after 1 a.m., records show. Most were along with another violation, according to officials.

Following questions about the curfew last year prompted by a story in The Daily Citizen, council members asked the city Public Safety Commission to determine if the curfew conformed to the requirements of state law and the Constitution. They said the proposed changes will do that.

“I believe that several other cities have made similar changes to their curfews,” said council member Gary Crews, the council’s liaison to the Public Safety Commission.

“We are basically recognizing that there are some reasons why children under 18 should be out after midnight,” he said. “There’s a provision for medical emergencies. There’s a provision for teens who are returning home from work or from school activities.”

Crews said the changes will also exempt those out after midnight who are exercising constitutional rights.

“For example, if someone is coming home from a church event, there’s an exemption because that’s part of their exercise of their freedom of religion,” he said.

How will a police officer determine if a teen has a legitimate exemption?

“That’s something we’ll have to ask the city attorney,” Crews said. “But I would imagine that like some other laws the officer will have to exercise some judgment. If you live in Brookwood and work at Kroger and are stopped on Walnut, it seems reasonable that you are coming home from work. But if you live in Brookwood and work at Kroger and get caught on Crow Valley and say you are coming home from work, that might not seem as reasonable.”

The council meets at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

The council also meets at 5 p.m. in City Hall in a work session to discuss a possible “live where you work” program.

“This would be something new for the city,” City Administrator Ty Ross said. “A work session is a chance for council members to have a discussion and exchange ideas. And in this case, the idea they will be discussing is having more city employees live in the city.”

Ross said that currently only 10 percent of city employees live in the city.

Council members will consider giving down payment assistance for those who buy homes in the city.

“I think all aspects of this will be up for discussion. What impact will it have? How many households do you want to move? Who will be eligible?” Ross said.


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