Is Myrtle Beach’s Teen Curfew Effective?

Is any teen curfew effective? Most scientific studies that have been conducted, some decades ago, have concluded that teen curfews have no impact on crime rates or juvenile victimization. Even worse, studies have found that teen curfews nationwide have been used to target African American and Latino teenagers. Myrtle Beach has had a teen curfew in place since 2010 that restricts anyone under the age of 18 from being in a public place between the hours of 1:00 – 6:00 A.M. Yesterday the City Council began the process of extending the hours of the curfew to 12:00 A.M. in response to a recent shooting on the boulevard by a 17-year old.

Why City Officials Want to Make the Curfew More Restrictive

Just over a week ago, there was a streetfight and shooting on the boulevard in Myrtle Beach. It attracted the attention of national media because there was a Facebook livestream of the entire incident taken from a nearby hotel balcony. The shooter was 17-years old, the shooting happened at 12:30 A.M., and therefore the shooter was not in violation of the 1:00 A.M. curfew. Myrtle Beach city officials have seized upon this incident to extend the curfew, making the outrageous and ridiculous claim that, if only there had been a 12:00 A.M. curfew for minors, the shooting may have been avoided:

“The existing curfew would not have kept him from being out there and ultimately doing what he did,” said City Manager John Pederson.

Pederson said this change needed to happen, noting that under the new curfew that shooting may have been avoided.

“We would’ve had the ability to go up to him and to anyone else that appeared to be younger than 17 to check and say, you know, ‘I’m sorry sir, you need to return to your hotel, you can’t be on the streets any longer.'”

There may be people out there who buy this and believe that, if only there had been an earlier curfew, police would have somehow intercepted the shooter, who was in a huge crowd of people on the boulevard, exactly 30 minutes before the shooting happened. What I see is a city council under pressure to do something to combat the violence in their city who are taking the easy way out. They are offering a non-solution that has no rational basis because they know that it is popular and constituents will see it as “doing something.” Bonus: police have a legal basis to stop, question, and potentially search people who are on the street after-hours.

Teen Curfews are Not Effective in Reducing Crime Rates

For decades, studies have found that teen curfews do not reduce crime rates. In some instances, an increase in crime rates was associated with teen curfews. In a 2013 op-ed, Mike Males noted that “youth curfews are demanded after a sensational incident.. to gloss over bad conditions officials have failed to redress… or to invoke sentimental odes to ‘protecting children’ by forcing them to stay home…” Sound familiar?

Mass curfews — elsewhere enforced only by repressive dictatorships and countries suffering temporary civil emergencies — are the Land of the Free’s go-to panacea for officials substituting anti-youth homilies for serious policy innovation. As well as evidence of the Home of the Brave’s shameful fear of its young people.

What has peer-reviewed research shown about the effectiveness of teen curfews?

  • A 2003 review of multiple studies found that research consistently “fails to support the argument that curfews reduce crime or criminal victimization.”
  • A study of a Vernon, Connecticut youth curfew found that the enactment of the curfew “was followed by increases in crime, particularly youthful offending, while nearby cities without curfews enjoyed decreases.”
  • An 18-year study of 21 cities in California found that curfew enforcement did nothing to reduce crime while other cities with no curfews had substantial decreases in the crime rate.
  • A study claiming to validate curfews, while failing to compare cities with and without curfews, “inadvertently found criminal arrests of youth fell faster across the country in general than in cities that enforced curfews.”
  • Another study found that “examination of 410 individual curfew stop citations issued by Vernon police for 1995-1998 showed only seven of the cited youths were involved in criminal or suspicious activities; none were intoxicated or endangered. The curfew’s main effect was to occupy police time removing law-abiding youth from public, creating emptier, less policed streets, and possibly enhanced opportunities for crime.”
  • In the Mike Males op-ed, he points out that “every curfew CJCJ has researched overwhelmingly targets African and Latino American youth.”
  • A 2001 study from the University of Kentucky found that a youth curfews had no effect on crime rates and that African American and lower income families were disproportionately targeted for curfew enforcement.

Results indicate that the curfew had no effect on total juvenile arrests, felonies, misdemeanors, violent (serious) crimes, or property crimes. More curfew violations were issued in areas with higher rates of juvenile arrests, higher levels of police presence, and lower family incomes. Parental citations were highest in areas with lower family income and greater proportions of African American populations.

What Does Work?

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,most violent crimes committed by juveniles happen between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on school days. On weekends, most violent juvenile crimes happen between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Not between 12:00 and 6:00 a.m.  What if we actually used the documented facts about juvenile crime to implement programs that are proven to reduce juvenile crime? After school programs that provide activities for teenagers during the peak times of juvenile offenses?

For example, a study found that after a Police Activities League and a Boys and Girls Club were implemented in certain housing developments in New York, there were fewer juvenile crimes committed compared to housing developments that did not have the after school programs.

Myrtle Beach’s teen curfew is presented as a solution to reduce juvenile crime after hours, but there is no evidence to support this. When you look at the research and the history of teen curfews nationwide, the truth appears to be that city council is taking the easy way out by announcing a popular but ineffective “solution” that is designed to calm angry residents. It gives law enforcement a legal justification to stop, question, and sometimes search citizens after hours and it is likely being used to target minority communities in Myrtle Beach, but it is not likely to reduce crime rates.

Is it too much to ask that our city officials actually study the problem, look at peer-reviewed research, look at what has worked and what has not worked across the country, put their thinking caps on, and find a real solution to the violence Myrtle Beach is facing?

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