WASHINGTON – Maryland teens cruising for late-night parties this weekend will have to cross Washington, D.C., off their lists, unless they want a run-in with the police.
Metropolitan Police said they will apply the city’s new curfew law to any youth caught in the city after hours, whether they live in the District or the suburbs.
The District on Tuesday began enforcing the Juvenile Curfew Act, which prohibits teens 16 and under from being in any public place between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. On weekends, the curfew is in effect from midnight through 6 a.m.
“It would be a very ineffective law if it just applied to D.C. youth,” said Metropolitan Police Officer Anthony O’Leary.
That came as a surprise to Sally Sternbach, a co-president of Montgomery- Blair High School’s Parent Teacher Student Association, who did not know the Washington law affected Maryland teens.
“If that’s the case, there needs to be much more communication to Maryland parents,” she said. “I think they would be done through cooperation in the districts.”
O’Leary said D.C. police have been publicizing the law through local news media.
Under the city law, a minor caught violating the curfew will be escorted home by police, if enough officers are available. If not, O’Leary said, the parent will have to come to the police station and pick the child up. If no one comes to pick up the teen-ager by 6 a.m., he or she will be turned over to the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.
Curfew violators may be ordered to perform up to 25 hours of community service. A parent or guardian could be fined up to $500 for letting their children violate the law.
Teen-agers are exempt from curfew if they are with an adult, working or returning home from a job, involved in an emergency, or completing an errand with their parents’ permission.
Sternbach doesn’t expect to be getting any late-night police calls regarding her son, Joel, 16. “Well, Joel would be in a lot more trouble with me than he would with the police,” she said.
Anthony Macdonnell, associate director of Youth for the Third Millenium in Bethesda, said he was not aware of the new law, but that he supports it and its potential effect on Marylanders.
“Parents should know where their kids are,” he said, adding that if someone goes to the District they have to expect to obey the rules there. “If you pick up responsibility of coming to visit me, you would abide by the rules I live by.”
The same goes for underage visitors to Prince George’s County, which already has a curfew that is stricter than the District law. The county’s curfew applies to teens 17 and under and is in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and midnight until 6 a.m. weekends.
Prince George’s County parent Debbie Shearer heads off any trouble with the law by imposing an earlier curfew on her sons, Chris, 16, and Corey, 15. TThey have to be home by 11:30 p.m. on weekends.
“I’m grateful, because I can say, `It’s the law,'” said Shearer, vice president of the Laurel High School PTSA. “Somebody has to tell these kids to get off the street.”
But the American Civil Liberties Union believes that that somebody should not be the government. The ACLU opposes curfew laws as vague and a violation of First Amendment rights.
“If you have a curfew law and want it to be successful, tailor them to juvenile crime [in the area],” said Nicole Gray, an equal justice fellow in the ACLU’s Centreville office. She said that while curfew laws are aimed at keeping juveniles off the street, the people committing the crimes in those areas might be over 18.
But Shearer said the curfews can protect kids as well as adults.
“I think they’re great,” she said. “It’s also for their safety. It’s for your [teens] safety to be in off the street.”