D.C. becomes latest community with a curfew despite doubts that keeping kids at home will reduce crime

Washington, D.C., arguably one of the most powerful cities in the world, has a major crime problem with violent crime skyrocketing 39 per cent over last year, according to police statistics.

In an attempt to crack down on crime, a juvenile curfew was put into place this weekend, affecting teens and children in targeted neighbourhoods.

“I hope that this curfew thing makes a difference,” said Jasmine Goodman, a founder of Teaching Rambunctious Adolescents Peaceful Positude, or TRAPP Stars. The organization runs a drop-in centre that serves more than 40 young people a day, connecting them with social and educational supports.

“I’ve lost a lot of youth over this past summer due to gun violence, senseless violence. So I’m praying that it works and I hope that the kids follow it,” she said.

A night street scene with a man wearing a shirt that reads "forensics" and police cars.
Forensics and police officers work at the scene of a shooting outside a restaurant in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This year, there has been a string of high-profile violent incidents involving young people, both as victims and perpetrators.

Last week, one 16-year-old girl fatally stabbed another outside a restaurant in a dispute about sweet-and-sour sauce. In July, surveillance cameras caught four teens running away after a Lyft driver, a former Afghan interpreter, was fatally shot. One of the teens is heard saying “You killed him.” In May, a 10-year-old girl sitting in her parent’s car was killed by a stray bullet. 

The Metropolitan Police Department says it has recorded 12 gun-related juvenile homicide victims so far this year.

WATCH | Why Washington, D.C., is imposing a curfew on kids under 17:

City of Washington, D.C., introducing curfew for kids under 17

The local government in Washington, D.C, is introducing a curfew for kids under 17 in certain neighbourhoods where crime is on the rise. But some question whether the move will make a difference.

Do curfews work?

Under the curfew people, people under the age of 17 are not allowed out in eight specific neighbourhoods between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends and between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays. Violators will be taken to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Service until their family is located or they have been connected to their family or social support services.

At a public safety briefing on Aug. 17, police Chief Pamela Smith said the curfew wasn’t intended to be a punitive measure, with an intent to arrest young people but rather to ensure the safety of D.C. youth.

About a dozen other United States cities have recently enacted, or re-enacted, juvenile curfew measures, including the New Jersey cities of Wildwood and Ocean City, Memphis, Tenn., and Vicksburg, Miss.

But there is mixed evidence about whether they work or not, according to Katherine Hazen, a research professor of criminal justice and health sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

“There’s a shifting effect that sometimes we see also in hotspot policing … when officers are targeting a particular geographical area. You actually see crime tends to move around the corner and it just goes to a different street,” she said.

The same effect is seen with curfews, she said. “It’s going to happen earlier in the day around the curfew rather than during the curfew hours.”

A portrait of a smiling woman with long dark hair standing in front of a tree.
Katherine Hazen is a Criminal Justice and Health Sciences Research Professor at Northeastern University in Boston. She says the research on the effectiveness of curfews is mixed. (David Leopardi)

Hazen also pointed out that curfews could put young people who aren’t safe at home at higher risk.

“Most crime actually occurs between people who live in the same household. So it’s mixed in terms of being able to achieve that goal of protecting youth.”

Curfews were commonplace 30 years ago following the 1994 crime bill enacted by then-president Bill Clinton.

“Laws like this tend to go in waves in the United States. We see a large number of cities who pass these ordinances. They enforce them for a little while and then they sort of stop enforcing them,” Hazen said.  

But when there is a spike in violence, curfews tend to “come back into vogue,” she said.

Skepticism and hope

There is some skepticism among the teens who hang out at TRAPP Stars.

“It don’t matter what time it is when something happens. It is what it is,” said Maxine Jackson, 15. “It ain’t stopping nothing.”

Portrait of a smiling teen with black curly hair.
Kennedy Bryant’s life was touched by violence when a close friend was shot bringing groceries into his house early one morning. She supports the curfew but says more needs to be done. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Kennedy Bryant, also 15, recently lost a close friend to gun violence. The friend was shot while bringing groceries into the house early one morning, she said.

Bryant supports the curfew but said more needs to be done to curb the violence.

“Stop putting guns in the wrong people’s hands,” she said.  “If it’s not for your safety — like if you don’t have a licence for it — you shouldn’t have it.” 

Portrait of a serious teen girl with long braids.
Maxine Jackson has been going to TRAPP for three years. She doesn’t think the D.C. curfew being enforced in her neighbourhood will impact safety. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Goodman agrees that more needs to be done to keep kids safe, such as school or community programs that give children and teens somewhere else to be. 

“More things that the schools can offer for our young is so that they can be like, ‘Oh yeah, look, I can’t go outside today. I got to go to my program,'” Goodman said.

“I’m sad and it just really sucks because it’s like you can help these kids so much, they can stay out of trouble for two months [but] the streets always get them.”

When it comes to the curfew, Goodman said D.C. officials have her full support.

“I’m standing with them,” said Goodman. “We just want to make sure we are safe. You’ll get home safe. So many babies and so many older kids and young kids are dying just here from stray bullets again.

“I’m praying on it.”

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