Sunday, July 30, 2006

This Is Not Helping

Washington, DC has decided to solve its crime problem by expanding the definition of “criminal” to include “anyone age 16 or younger who is outdoors after 10 p.m.”

A police crackdown on curfew violators in the District -- more than 830 this month -- is about to get even tougher under a plan that has sparked annoyance among youths and a measure of hope for police and city officials trying to curb a crime surge. Starting tomorrow, children 16 and younger have to be off the streets and out of city hangouts by 10 p.m., two hours earlier than the current government curfew. The ban will continue until Aug. 30, although it could be extended.

How many thefts or assaults can be prevented in the time it takes to pick up and process 830 youthful curfew violators? I don’t know; I never was good at math. But when cops routinely criminalize teenage behavior that’s perfectly legal in adults, the teens can always see through it:

"I don't think it's really going to do much," said Jake Tempchin, 14, of upper Northwest Washington. "The shady characters are going to go where they're not going to get caught. The people just walking down the street, it seems they're more likely to get caught than the people who are a threat. It really doesn't seem that much more dangerous after 10 than it does before 10."

It isn’t. But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume you support the idea of a youth curfew. The police are still taking this one too far:

on the western side of the river, Officer Terrance Nesmith was dealing with two violators -- ages 16 and 14. Police had picked them up as they hung out on a friend's front stoop in Southwest, drinking soda and munching chips.

Note to rural and suburban readers: a “stoop” is what city kids have instead of a yard. It’s where you can go outside without leaving your property. These kids were picked up for the equivalent of sitting on their friend’s front porch, committing flagrant acts of soda-drinking and chip consumption.

I wonder if these kids had air-conditioning in their respective apartments? DC is far enough South for nights to get unbearably sultry in July. But anyway, here’s the aftermath of their bust for after-hours outdoor sitting:

As Nesmith filled out paperwork [note to non-cop readers: “filling out paperwork” is something cops do where they can’t look for criminals while they’re doing it] on the youths at the 3rd District police station off 16th Street NW, Officer Ebony White entered the room and slammed a green ledger on the conference table, startling the teenagers. As she called their sleeping mothers, the two youths looked on with glances ranging from worry to near desperation.

I’d be one hundred percent on the side of these cops if they’d picked the kids up for trespassing, vandalism, stealing, assault . . . but sitting outside on a stoop? That kid’s mom must have been furious when the cop called her.

"He's violated curfew, so you're going to have to come to 1620 V Street in Northwest," the officer told the 16-year-old's mother.
White said the woman responded that her son was on probation for a gun charge and was under court order to be home by 8 p.m.

Oh, damn it. You know what the problem is with libertarian causes? A shortage of good poster children.


Anonymous Tom said...

Take a look at this Google map I made over the weekend...plots crimes in DC and provides aggregate stats.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Tom, many of the crimes listed (when I saw the map; it may be different for you since it's "last 25 crimes") were "ADW." What does that mean?

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Tom said...

ADW is Assault w/ Deadly Weapon

12:04 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Got it. Thanks.

Considering the high crime rate in DC, I'd think looking for people who commit crimes like robbery or assault with a deadly weapon would be a much better use of cops' time than checking the ages of anyone outside after 10 p.m., and driving them to the station and filling out paperwork if they turn out to be too young.

12:07 PM  

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