By JP Massar
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan wants a curfew. In the widespread absence of appropriate “parental controls” Jordan says a curfew is critical to reduce the risks posed by teens and younger children hanging out late at night in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. He says he wants to assemble and lead a community-wide effort to get the City Council to pass a curfew ordinance before the end of the calendar year. — Chip Johnson, columnist, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle 8/2/12
There is little factual basis for the idea that curfews have any significant effect on crime or safety. Furthermore, there has been no attempt that I have been able to find to discuss a balance between the restrictions on freedom and the inevitable harassment of young people that curfew laws mandate versus any alleged benefit. Curfew laws seem to exist because adults simply assume they are a good idea, and because police organizations support curfews.
Many curfew laws were imposed in the 1990s before there were any academic studies on curfews. Studies from 1998 to 2003 suggested that there was no measurable benefit to curfew laws. For example
There is no support for the hypothesis that jurisdictions with curfews experience lower crime levels, accelerated youth crime reduction, or lower rates of juvenile violent death than jurisdictions without curfews. (1999)
…the evidence does not support the argument that curfews prevent crime and victimization. Juvenile crime and victimization are most likely to remain unchanged after implementation of curfew laws… (2003)
In 2006 (with a 2010 revision) Patrick Kline at UC Berkeley published a paper which suggested that
…being subject to a curfew reduces the number of violent and property crimes committed by juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10% in the year after enactment, with the effects intensifying substantially in subsequent years for violent crimes.
If any kind of scientific rationale is presented to the Oakland City Council justifying a curfew this would probably be it. However a single paper, when two other studies suggest otherwise, should not make a convincing argument.
Curfews are widespread in the United States. Seventy-eight of the ninty-two largest cities in America have some sort of teenage curfew or another. Many of California’s biggest cities — Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco — have curfews. Given this, it is somewhat surprising that Oakland does not currently have a curfew law. Curfew laws generally restrict anyone below a certain age from being in public places, in vehicles or in ‘establishments’ during certain late-evening and early-morning hours. Restricted hours may differ on weekends from weekdays. Some curfew laws are also in effect during school hours.