Could a curfew reduce Rochester's homicide rate, especially among youth?
It depends on how it's implemented, says Rochester Institute of Technology criminal justice professor John Klofas. It probably won't work, he says, if violators are cuffed and jailed. But, he says, if the city can create a comprehensive social-service-oriented program, a curfew can become a way of identifying and providing services to at-risk children and their families.
The idea of a curfew has been gaining prominence locally. In his State of the City address last month, Mayor Robert Duffy said he would "seriously consider" imposing a summer curfew as early as this June. And at a press conference late last month, new Police Chief David Moore said a summer curfew could serve as a pilot program for something more long-term.
Moore, who helped implement a similar program in Colorado Springs more than a decade ago, says such trials do work. For example, police in Colorado initially issued warnings instead of tickets to help youth adjust to the new law.
Spearheading the movement is City Councilmember Adam McFadden, who first raised the issue several months ago. After a recent visit to Minneapolis to observe that city's 11-year-old program, McFadden says he is convinced that Rochester should replicate it. "Not only do I think it will curb violence, but it's going to be a tool that we can use to deliver services to a family," he says.
While comparing Rochester and Minneapolis is a bit of a stretch --- Minneapolis is larger, whiter, and wealthier than Rochester --- Moore says the two cities have at least one similarity: They both suffer from high gang and drug-related violence.
Minneapolis officials imposed a curfew in response to the city's high murder rate in the mid 1990s, McFadden says. Minneapolis takes young offenders not to an area lockup but to a 24-hour curfew and truancy center, he says.
Run by the Minneapolis Urban League, the center is the receiving zone for youths that cops pick up, says its executive director, Kevin Carlisle. That's where they're searched, screened, and sent home. That's where they receive their fine ($25 for a first offense or community service; $50 for a second), and where parents call when they can't find their young people.
Carlisle ballparks offenders' recidivism rate at around 5 percent. Moore adds that in Colorado fines were levied against parents or caregivers, not children.
One of the greatest challenges though, warns Klofas, is the resources required to implement a curfew of this nature. "A lot of cities have tried and dropped it in time because of expenses associated with it," he says, noting that Rochester does not currently have a 24-hour service center.
The city would also have to hire additional police staff --- to patrol the streets and to receive youth at the center. Creating and enforcing a curfew is a huge commitment, Klofas says: "It's really rethinking a service model. It's not just sort of passing legislation to keep kids off the streets at a certain hour."
McFadden wants Rochester to replicate the Minneapolis model, which receives funding from three sources: the city, county, and city school district. At the onset, McFadden says, each agency paid $100,000 --- a figure he insists is feasible for Rochester. "We spend $100,000 on bullshit all the time in terms of government. If we can't find $100,000 for our kids, then that's a serious problem," he says.
Aside from monetary concerns, some worry that a curfew will target poor, minority children. Even with equal enforcement in the city's predominantly white and black areas, "It's inevitable that the kids who are likely to be most affected by this are going to be minority kids," says Klofas.
That imbalance arises, he says, from a "whole variety of lifestyle issues." For example, children in Rochester's poorer areas are likely to live in more crowded households, lack air conditioning, and have fewer indoor recreation options.
But McFadden stresses that a curfew isn't a hidden way of getting minority children into the prison system. It's about intervention, about getting teenagers off the streets before it's too late, he says: "Let's face it. It's minority kids that are dying."
Even if the city moves ahead with a curfew, people should not expect a quick fix to Rochester's crime problem, Klofas says. "The toughest kids are not really going to be affected by curfews," he says. "It's those other sort of middle-range kids whose behaviors you have a shot at changing."
And, he adds, it can take up to a full generation to truly measure the impact of a curfew. Measures for success include not just a drop in violent crime, but city children's academic and social achievement.