January 12, 2016

In response to crimes involving teens, lawmakers push for curfew

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An old adage goes “nothing good happens after midnight.” Some New Mexico lawmakers are attempting to make that adage into a law that would allow local governments to implement a curfew for anyone under 18.

Roundhouse

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, filed HB 29 last month partly as an answer to two violent crimes that took place in Albuquerque last year. One instance involved a group of teenagers who were charged with the murder of an Albuquerque homeless man and the other involved a teenager who was shot and killed at an Albuquerque park late at night.

Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who is a cosponsor of the curfew bill said he wanted to give local governments “the local authority to bring the curfew forward.”

The idea of the state giving authority to cities and counties is not new and also stems from a New Mexico Supreme Court decision from 1999. In 1995, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico successfully challenged a curfew implemented by the City of Albuquerque. The high court ruled at the time that state law preempted the local government’s ability to enact a curfew. Since then, almost every legislative session a legislator has attempted to change state law to allow local governments to impose curfews.

Supporters say a curfew for youth will help curb crime.

In 1997, the United States Conference of Mayors concluded that a majority of U.S. cities that had a night time curfew saw it as a positive thing. A later study from University of California Berkeley found that curfews may reduce property crimes committed by juveniles, but it added, “It is important to bear in mind that we have little data on the costs of such programs, either directly in terms of dollars spent enforcing such ordinances, or indirectly in terms of the opportunity costs of policing.”

Peter Simonson, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico told NM Political Report that curfew ordinances give police free range to stop and detain anyone who is underage or merely looks like they are underage.

“You’re creating a sweeping law that is effectively martial law for kids under a certain age,” Simonson said.

Gentry said he anticipated the argument that curfews allow police overreach, but he argued that it won’t take a curfew to allow officers to abuse their power.

“If you’re a cop trying to manufacture probable cause there are a million other ways to do that,” Gentry said.

Still, Simonson argued that teenagers already engaged in criminal activity will not obey a curfew law.

“The people that are going to respect curfews will also respect other laws,” Simonson said.

Simonson and the ACLU maintain that a police force that is already stretched thin will end up patrolling lower income neighborhoods and therefore target specific demographics.

In a written statement to NM Political Report, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said he supports having the ability to enact a curfew and the city would look at ways to not violate personal rights of teens.

“I think it’s important for municipalities around New Mexico to have this enabling legislation passed so each community can make decisions that they feel are best for them,” Berry said. “If passed, I’m sure Albuquerque will look at ways to keep our youth and community safe without infringing on personal liberties.”

The idea of targeting certain ethnicities and social classes is a concern for Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, as well. He added that passing the curfew legislation is a reaction to violent crimes that does not properly address the right problems.

“It is a knee jerk reaction to issues that we have experienced in Albuquerque that runs a lot deeper than kids being out late at night,” Martinez said.

Martinez previously wrote a Community Voices article for NM Political Report expressing his concern for more focus on early childhood education.

“It’s a very superficial, feel good, piece of legislation,” Martinez said. “In reality, the problems are much deeper.”

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