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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Chicago curfew up in the air; experts debate its effectiveness

After a couple was attacked on a downtown street last month, a Chicago alder proposed an ordinance that would prohibit unaccompanied minors from a downtown area after 8 p.m.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Chicago City Council on June 12 delayed voting on an ordinance that would establish a curfew for unaccompanied minors. The measure was proposed in response to a violent attack on a Streeterville couple.

Alderman Brian Hopkins, who chairs the public safety committee, proposed the ordinance after a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old assaulted a couple around 9 p.m. on May 31 near the intersection of Grand Avenue and McClurg Court.

The woman told Fox 32 Chicago that the teens ripped out a chunk of her hair, pepper sprayed her and kicked her in the stomach. She was two weeks pregnant and lost the baby shortly after the attack, she said.

The teenagers face misdemeanor battery charges, but the 2nd Ward alderman said the charges were “entirely inappropriate.” Instead, Hopkins proposed an ordinance that would forbid unaccompanied minors from being in the Central Business District past 8 p.m.

“I do not believe every minor present during these recent gatherings have ill intentions, but it is painfully clear that a few agitators and ringleaders have instigated violent and chaotic actions time and time again, and this activity cannot be tolerated,” Hopkins said in a statement shared with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Hopkins did not respond to multiple requests for further comment.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson quickly came out in opposition of Hopkins’ proposal.

“My thoughts and prayers are always with people who have been victims of violence. It’s horrific,” Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. “It’s life-changing. ... But all of the data indicates that setting arbitrary curfews — they don’t lead to any positive results. I have to do what works. Helping young people find their purpose is the most important thing we can do as government.”

Johnson also spoke about the difficulty of enforcing this type of curfew during a press conference on June 16.

“If a young person has to be accompanied by an adult, what is the definition of an adult? Is it an 18-year-old? Is it a 19-year-old? Is it a 21-year-old? These are just reasonable questions,” Johnson told reporters.

Stephanie Kollmann, policy director of the Children Family Justice Center at Northwestern’s law school, echoed some of Johnson’s concerns. She said Hopkins‘'’ proposal establishes a supervision cliff in which young people aren’t able to practice being responsible for themselves in public.

“In this instance, a 17 year old after 8 p.m. isn’t allowed to make their own choices and conduct themselves in certain sections of the city, but then once they have their next birthday they’re legally allowed to do any and everything,” Kollmann said.

Kollmann also noted that the data doesn’t show that crime decreases once these curfews are established.

Charlotte Gill, an associate professor in criminology at George Mason University, conducted a review on the effects of juvenile curfews on crime and victimization in 2016 and found that curfews had little effect on crime.

“Basically, we found there’s not a lot of good evidence for juvenile curfews,” Gill said. “I will say that our review is fairly old, but the studies that we found were actually pretty outdated as well. ... But the research that has been done, does show that there are not strong effects. And in some cases crime actually increased during times when curfews were in place.”

The mayor of Hammond, Indiana, took a different approach to crime after a spike in shootings last summer. The Hammond City Council passed an ordinance in August that required all gas stations to close between midnight and 5 a.m.

“We have seen, over the last several years, violent criminal acts — often involving firearms — occurring at gas stations late and night and in the early morning hours. My job as mayor is to ensure the public’s safety, and this ordinance removes a place where, unfortunately, violent incidents continue to take place. I can’t sit back and see innocent people become victims of violent crime,” Mayor Thomas McDermott said in a statement.

McDermott said in a phone interview that the measure was a move in the right direction, and “it really quieted things down.” 

As for the Chicago proposal, McDermott said he agreed with it in principal, but not particularly in practice. “I’m a law and order guy and I get what the alderman is trying to do, but 8 p.m. is way too early,” he said. 

“There is evidence for place-based level [regulations], rather than targeting specific people for doing things, like closures [and] changing the hours of things, to reduce the likelihood that crime might happen at a certain place, or to reduce the targets at a certain target,” Gill said. “I think that there is some support for approaches like that. I think where it becomes challenging is when the community is not involved in those decisions.”

Jillian Carr, an economics professor at Purdue University, said the impacts of curfews aren’t necessarily black and white. She and another researcher focused on Washington D.C.’s curfew for unaccompanied minors in 2015. They honed in on the number of gunshots that occurred during the hours covered by the curfew.

Carr said people would expect that gunshots would decrease when there are fewer people on the streets, but that wasn’t the case in D.C. She said as a compositional effect, the people who are rule-abiding will follow the curfew, and when they are taken off the streets, the people who are left are less likely to follow the rules.

“You might see more gunshots because you’re taking away witnesses and you’re taking away potential innocent bystanders,” Carr said.

Carr highlighted a quote from urban planner Jane Jacobs, who advocated for a community-based approach to building cities: “A well-used street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted street is apt to be unsafe.”

Kollmann, of Northwestern’s law school, reiterated Carr’s statements about empty streets, and said a better solution would be to bolster community programs and recreational areas so that kids have something to do during their free time in the summer.

“Teenagers have an exceptionally well-developed sense of justice and injustice, and when they know they aren’t doing anything wrong except being in public, that just feels fundamentally unfair,” Kollmann said.

Carr said curfew policies have become a more popular response to crime, in part, because setting a curfew is easier than changing local gun laws.

Kollmann echoed this sentiment.

“It doesn’t cost anything up front. It doesn’t target powerful interests. And in fact, is sometimes seen as protecting them, although that’s not accurate,” Kollmann said. “It feels protective to people.”

The City Council moved the measure back to the Rules Committee last week, which has not set its next meeting.

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