Montgomery County, Md. set a hearing for July 26 at 1:30 p.m. to hear public comment on controversial teen curfew legislation. The law would set a curfew of 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursdays and midnight on Friday and Saturdays with exceptions for teens who are working late or have other sanctioned excuses for being out late. Penalties for curfew violations apply to both parents and teens; parents can be ordered to take parenting classes while teens can be ordered to perform community service.
At the heart of the debate is whether government- in this case county government- should be telling kids what time to be home at night. Opponents of the bill see this as an incursion on parental prerogatives. Proponents argue that it's the segment of parents who don't assume responsibility for knowing their kids' whereabouts that make the bill necessary.
But lurking under the surface of the debate is a more compelling question: what is the motive for the Montgomery County teen curfew proposal? Let's look at who proposed this law and why.
The Montgomery County police came up with the idea and wrote the draft bill. Their plan is to implement the curfew selectively, on a case-by-case basis. That's a little troubling: a law not intended to be enforced across-the-board but at the whim of individual police officers.
The driving force behind the law is also a bit unusual:
* The proposed law's findings say juvenile crime, gang activity and violence in the county has increased, citing no statistics and no time frame for the alleged increase. Nor does it state whether the juveniles allegedly committing crimes reside in the county.
* But, overall, crime is down in Montgomery, County, not up.
* Official police statistics refute the law's findings with respect to juveniles specifically, too. As reported by local blog "Just up the Pike," both gang related incidents and crime involving teens have decreased substantially in the past decade.
* So why a curfew? Police say teen youth from other jurisdictions are crossing over to Montgomery County from Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County due to curfews in those locales.
The real motive for the curfew seems to be keeping out suspected "riff-raff" (or as the police call them, "experienced juveniles") from other jurisdictions before any trouble starts. And they propose to do this by passing a law that restricts the activity of Montgomery County residents -- and then picking and choosing their enforcement targets. This attempted power grab with a promise of selective enforcement is reminiscent of too many police actions past, none of them good. Anytime the police want a law that nominally applies to everybody but impliedly promise not to enforce it against you, look out.
Is it relevant that Montgomery County's demographics differ considerably from those of Washington D.C. and Prince George's County? MoCo is predominantly white, 57.5 percent, (with the black population trailing at 29.4 percent) while PG County and Washington, D.C. are predominantly black. PG's black residents constitute 64.5 percent of its population; D.C.'s black to white resident ratio is 50.7 to 38.5. Hard to be sure, but the fact of the differing demographics combined with police statements about the need to keep curfew-hopping PG and DC kids out of Montgomery fairly raise the question.
Will the police be granted the power to tell your child when it's time to go home-- and to get you sent to parenting classes if you disagree? That depends on what Montgomery County residents have to say at the July 26 hearing.
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- Prince George s County