Pratt City Commissioners considered a draft proposal of an ordinance that would keep kids off the streets after midnight, but delayed action until its next meeting on Oct. 7.
City Attorney Ken Van Blaricum explained that the material he was presenting at the meeting Monday was at the request of commissioners and the Pratt Police Department, and in response to criminal activities of juveniles who walk the streets at night.
The ordinance is simple, he said, imposing a curfew on minors under age 17 who are loitering between midnight and 6 a.m. Minors can be cited for a violation and so can their parents.
The proposal states, in part, "it shall be unlawful for any minor under the age of 17 years to loiter, idle, wander, stroll, or play on any public street, highway, alley, sidewalk, playground, park, public building or other public area between the hours of 12 midnight and 6 a.m. of the following day; provided however, that the provisions of this section shall not apply to a minor accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, or other adult person having the care and custody of said minor."
A second section states that it is unlawful for parents and guardians to permit a minor to violate the ordinance. Loitering by minors is a Class C violation, with a maximum jail time of 30 days or maximum fine of $500.
Van Blaricum and Police Chief Gary Myers indicated most problems they have seen recently have been with sixth, seventh and eighth graders, not 17- and 18-year-olds, and that many are repeat offenders.
Myers acknowledged that a curfew would be "enforcement for all because of the faults of a few," but said it would give his officers a tool to stop kids and ask their intentions.
Commissioners debated whether the age should be set at under 16, since 16-year-olds can legally drive at night.
Discussion was also held about making the curfew hours 1 to 5 a.m.
City finance director Diana Garten noted that it is not unusual for buses to return from out-of-town athletic events after midnight, and some practices start at 6 a.m. Students would automatically be in violation of the ordinance.
As a parent, she didn't want to be put in a position of telling her daughter that it's all right to break the law.
Commissioners Gary Skaggs, Bill Hlavachick and Karen Detwiler spoke in favor of having a community forum to allow public input. Mayor Jeff Taylor disagreed: "Only the people who are very opposed would show up."
The decision was made to table the issue and allow people to express their concerns at the meeting on Oct. 7.
After it was proposed at the Sept. 3 meeting, the Tribune posted a poll on its website, asking readers if they would support a curfew for teens as a way of curbing an increased incidence of juvenile crime.
The number of respondents is not recorded, but 61 percent said they would approve a curfew. Thirteen percent said no, it would have little effect, and 26 percent said no, it would cause trouble for older teens and young adults who work or have late games.
The question was also posed on the Tribune's Facebook fan page. Of eight comments, seven were in favor, and one person said it is up to parents to have a curfew for their children and know where they are and what they are doing. It is not right to push it off onto anyone else.
Curfew laws have been challenged and in some cases struck down as violating the First Amendment and other constitutional guarantees, especially when they do not include a provision for parental exceptions, and for enforcement that targets juveniles based on race.
Profiling based on age is not illegal.
"The state has an interest in taking care of its minor children," Van Blaricum said.
City Manager Dave Howard said the comment he had heard most often was, "I thought we already had a curfew."
In other business, the commission formally accepted two grants for sidewalk improvement, in the amounts of $60,000 and $66,760. The city's commitment is about $25,000 after in-kind labor is considered.