Columbia City Council Talks Curfew, Task Force Plans

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia City Council decided on Monday that is moving forward with assembling a task force to address violence in the city. The city council met Monday night to discuss the possibility of implementing a curfew for people under age 17, and other options to reduce crime in Columbia.

A city document says the city council considered a curfew for people under age 17 in 2002 and 2003, but the proposed ordinance was withdrawn in June 2003. Columbia's City Manager Mike Matthes didn't work for the city at the time, but said he understands why the city council withdrew the curfew ordinance.

"After reading the history of the time, I think the council felt like it was too much solution for a problem that wasn't there. You still have comments like that today. Is it really solving a problem we have or does it over reach? And that's the debate now that the council will have," Matthes said.

In the document Matthes and his staff recommend an evaluation process for any curfew ordinance that is considered. The document also said Matthes and his staff feel the conditions and wording of the previously considered ordinance are sufficient for implementing a curfew in Columbia. Matthes and his staff also suggest the curfew ordinance include programs that involve parents, to help ensure people do not violate the curfew more than once. One way to involve parents would be instead of the child being brought home after violating curfew, he or she would be brought to a facility with volunteers and professionals where parents could determine the child's community service hours. This process would be in place of going through the court system.

Matthes and his staff also suggest the following strategies to help reduce crime and violence in Columbia:

1. Graffiti removal and abatement
2. After school and evening programs
3. Mentorship
4. Employment programs
5. Early childhood intervention

Matthes said he supports enforcing a curfew.

"In the cities that have tried curfews, they found that they have seen a reduction in violence that juveniles commit. They also see a reduction in juveniles being the victims of crime. That's pretty simple calculus. If they're home, they're not out to be victims or perpetrators," Matthes said.

Dale Roberts is the executive director of The Columbia Police Officer's Association. He voiced his concerns with the curfew to the city council at the meeting Monday evening.

"One problem officers have brought forward is that if they pick up a juvenile and take him into custody, the officer is off the street for 2 hours. That's 2 hours they're off their patrol duties, usually during the prime time," Roberts said.

Another person who voiced her concern at the meeting asked the city council how the curfew would be enforced.

"How do visitors families find out about a curfew?" she asked.

The original curfew ordinance lists exceptions to the curfew.Those exceptions are:

1. The minor was accompanied by a parent, guardian or other responsible adult.
2. The minor at work or going to or returning from work.
3. The minor was attending an official school, religious or recreational activity supervised by an adult.
4. The minor was involved in an emergency.
5. The minor was on an errand for a parent.
6. The minor was in a car or motor vehicle in interstate travel.
7. The minor was on the sidewalk outside his or her home.
8. The minor was exercising first amendment rights protected by the United States constitution.

A decision about whether to enforce a curfew was not made Monday night. Matthes said Monday's meeting was a way to keep the conversation going, and discuss the city's options.