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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Guest commentary: Police want ordinance against loitering, not curfew

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  • Following the article in a recent issue of the Pratt Tribune, entitled "Teen curfew considered," the Pratt Police Department recognizes the need to provide more information on the proposed Juvenile Loitering Ordinance.
    Members of the Police Department proposed the ordinance in a manner that addressed some of the concerns that have been raised. The proposal that has been presented is a simplified version, of the original document. While it is good for generating discussion, it is not what the Department envisioned for the final ordinance.
    The first feature to remember about the proposed ordinance is that it is not a curfew. Even though some individuals and the Tribune article itself have referred to it as such that is not what the Police Department has proposed. The proposed ordinance is a loitering ordinance. The difference is vast.
    A juvenile curfew dictates that no person below the specified age can be out after the designated hours — period. That is not what the Police Department envisioned for this ordinance.
    A loitering ordinance says, in essence, that juveniles cannot be out, during those hours, without a legitimate reason. Legitimate reasons would certainly include coming home from sporting events (as was mentioned by a concerned parent in the Tribune article) and a host of other activities that are generally healthy and encouraged.
    The Pratt Police Department recognizes that schools, church groups, home school groups, service organizations, clubs, and employers may all generate events that occur after the designated hours that the Police Department would be the first to encourage young people to participate in.
    The proposal submitted by the Police Department addresses these types of events and other situations that youth can attend and in no way violate the ordinance.
    The difficulty has been that juvenile criminals currently can roam the town all through the night without consequences. In addition, young people, who have no criminal history, but make a first time mistake, can easily connect with the wrong people and send their life down the wrong track. The Juvenile Loitering ordinance is a tool to help the Police Department in its fight to keep both of these things from happening.
    The next feature of the ordinance to highlight is that it holds irresponsible adults accountable for the actions of their children.
    Juvenile crime is expanding rapidly and Pratt is not immune as recent Tribune articles have demonstrated. Many of the youthful offenders, with which the Police Department deals, come from homes in which the adults, themselves, are involved in drugs and criminal offenses. Consequently those adults provide no oversight for the juveniles in their care and sometimes sanction the negative behavior of the young people. These types of young people are frequently the ones that canvas the town after dark, looking for open vehicles, unsecured buildings, and unattended property to steal or damage.
    Page 2 of 3 - This results in innocent people paying the price for the way in which a few parents raise their children. Rather than pushing the responsibility off on someone else, the proposed ordinance would bring consequences on parents that do not provide supervision for their kids.
    Reasonable adults realize that young people cannot be expected to always make the right decisions. Mistakes are a part of learning and maturing. The challenge is to attempt to limit the magnitude of the mistakes that kids can make so that the consequences of their mistakes are not greater than any of us want to see them have to pay. Therefore, responsible parents control the activity of their children, to include designating times that their kids are not to be out of the house.
    Historically nighttime is a dangerous time for youths and any intelligent person understands this. At night, the majority of people are asleep so there is less natural observation on activities. At night, darkness cloaks illegal endeavors making it the choice time for many criminals. At night, there are more people drinking and using drugs and driving after they do so. Is it any wonder that responsible parents want their kids home at night.
    Parents, therefore, are often dumbfounded to learn that the Police cannot stop any kid they see out after dark. Most expect police to stop juveniles that are out late at night, find out what they are up to, and call the parents and let them know — in effect to be another set of eyes for parents that are trying to prevent their juveniles from making those horrible life altering mistakes.
    However, without ordinances authorizing such stops, Police are stretching their powers to do so. Furthermore, if the Police encounter a parent that says it is okay for their child to wander the town without any reasonable purpose – there is nothing that Police can do about it.
    The goal of the juvenile loitering ordinance is to give the police the authority to stop juveniles that are out after hours, question them about their activities, call parents, if necessary, to verify what the juvenile is telling them, and if everything checks out, send the young person on their way.
    If, however, the juvenile is just roaming the streets with no legitimate reason, the ordinance the Police Department has proposed, would provide for the juvenile and the parent, that permitted the loitering, to receive one warning and if it occurs again, both would be cited with progressively higher fines.
    The Tribune article, also, reported on a couple of ideas that would "hamstring" the proposed ordinance from the beginning. One is to lower the age of the juveniles the ordinance effects. The Police Department believes that it is best to structure the ordinance to affect anyone under the age of 18. To do less would complicate the issue and leave an unnecessary gap in teens that create a number of the problems that have been discussed and influence younger people to do the same. Many of the repeat offenders mentioned in the Tribune article are getting ready to cross into the older age group with no indication of a change in behavior.
    Page 3 of 3 - The idea suggested that a juvenile's ability to drive might somehow be a factor. As mentioned, the activity that is being controlled is "loitering." Whether the teen drives or not is not a factor. The question is, walking or driving, does the juvenile have a legitimate reason for being out.
    Another proposal reported was to make the designated hours later – as in moving the time to 1 a.m. instead of midnight. In actuality the Police Department originally proposed a 10 p.m. time for weeknights and a 12midnight time for weekends. If simplicity demands a single time for all nights than the Department would advocate for an 11 p.m. time.
    Many of the teen problems that the department deals with occur prior to 11 p.m. and this would encourage juveniles to be heading home at this time instead of getting into trouble. These times are also more in line with what the average parent expects of their teens unless they have a special event to attend, which would be acceptable under the ordinance the Police Department proposes.
    As the discussion on the ordinance is just beginning, the Pratt Police Department felt it was important to inform the citizens of Pratt about some of the issues from the Department's perspective.
    The goal of the Department is to help make Pratt a safer place to live without infringing on legitimate activities. The Police Department believes the City of Pratt has the ability to craft a juvenile loitering ordinance that will meet that goal.
    It would be regretful if the ordinance lost its usefulness because of unwarranted fears or misconceptions. With that in mind, the Department is providing this information.
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