FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Police in Fort Wayne and Allen County will enforce a state curfew law not acted on in more than 12 years. It’s move that officials have called a counter-punch to violent and property crime involving young people.
In a press conference late morning Wednesday, Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed said his officers will begin to “actively enforce” the juvenile curfew law in an attempt to reduce crime.
Reed said this year, his officers have conducted 416 juvenile investigations in the overnight hours, and made more than 500 arrests of those young people. With those children at home, Reed said he hopes crime will fall.
“We want to ensure our young people are safe and to hold parents accountable for the whereabouts of our children,” said Reed.
The curfew law requires children ages 15-17 off the streets from 1-5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It’s also a violation for those children to be in public places after 11 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and before 5 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Children found out during those off-hours will first be taken home. If they cannot be placed in the care of their parents, they will be taken to the Allen County Juvenile Center. If police find a pattern of curfew violation in a certain juvenile, the case will be forwarded to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, where the potential exists for a felony charge.
Although Chief Reed said no sweeps are planned right now, Allen County Juvenile Judge Dan Heath said the juvenile center is ready if there is an influx of teens.
“I think this is a tool and a tool kit of law enforcement,” Heath said of the curfew laws.
Local police stopped the enforcement of the curfew law before 2004, according to Reed, when a legal battle ensued about the constitutionality of the law. Out of that, the 7th Circuit court found the state’s curfew law to be unconstitutional because it could dissuade children from “exercising their First Amendment rights for fear of being arrested.”
After that, then-Gov. Joe Kernan signed an amendment to the curfew law that said a law enforcement officer could not detain a child out past curfew unless the officer found the child was violating the curfew law and found no legal defense to the violation.
Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards said the curfew enforcement is as much about public safety and crime reduction as it is making parents accountable for their children.
“This whole curfew enforcement is also about parental responsibility,” said Richards. “It is a huge safety issue for young people to be out. Frankly at 15 years of age, there are very few legitimate reasons for their children to be out that late. Nothing good happens after midnight.”
Heath said the Allen County Juvenile Center is prepared to process a “sudden influx” of juveniles when the curfew sweeps are made. The judge said that while national statistics show that just 15 percent of juvenile violent crime occurs on the weekends after hours, that type of crime peaks during the school week in the evenings, which places an importance on after-school activities and parental involvement.
A curfew enforcement is a step in the right direction, though, he said.
“There’s more work to be done but this is an important tool,” said Heath. “It’s time for parenting to kick in again.”