Sun Sets on Curfew

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A City Council plan to prevent teenagers from going outside after dark may never see
the light of day.

The bill, introduced by Queens Republican Thomas Ognibene, would institute a
“nocturnal juvenile curfew,” giving police the authority to detain anyone under the age of
18 found on the streets from 10pm-6am Sunday through Thursday and 11pm to 6am
Friday and Saturday. Despite the popularity of such measures in other cities, however,
youth curfews are getting a chilly reception at City Hall.

“There’s no support in the council for curfews, zero,” says a source close to Council
Speaker Peter Vallone, who is not likely to even let the measure come up for a vote in
committee. The only reason why the bill was even aired, staffers say, was because
Ognibene, the council’s minority leader, is well-liked by his Democratic colleagues.

Apart from the opposition of constitutionalists like the New York Civil Liberties Union,
the curfew is disdained by the law-and-order Giuliani administration. Speaking at a
September town hall meeting in Queens, Police Commissioner Howard Safir termed the
Ognibene bill “unenforceable.”

“What it comes down to is [police] stopping people and asking, ‘Can I see your papers,'”
said Thomas White, a Democrat who represents predominantly black Jamaica, Queens.
“I don’t want that in this city.”

But Ognibene isn’t giving up. He says he will reintroduce the bill and consider
expanding the curfew’s exemptions, which now allow teenagers out after dark if they are
accompanied by an adult or if they are commuting to work, school, or adult-supervised

“It’ll be selective enforcement, like anything else,” says Ognibene, dismissing criticism
that the curfew would prompt a massive crackdown on non-white neighborhoods. “But
I don’t mean [we’d target] Hispanic, Italian, black, whatever.”

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