NEW ORLEANS -- Following some high-profile violence earlier this year, the City Council tightened the juvenile curfew in the French Quarter. And they talked about – but never acted on – an even tougher, citywide curfew for teens.
Now months later, the number of juvenile curfew arrests continues to climb. And juvenile crime certainly hasn't dropped, with teens again linked to some headline-making crimes.
Just earlier this week, two boys, 14 and 15, allegedly robbed a group of adults at gunpoint in Uptown. And last week, a 16-year-old was booked in the murder of a university student.
The city decades ago enacted one of the nation's toughest curfew laws. But does it work?
Cops call it a helpful crime-fighting tool. Critics say it’s ineffective, and a misplaced priority.
"We see fewer children being hurt when they are at home at night where they are supposed to be,” said New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas. “We see fewer children hurting other people when they are home at night where they should be."
Carol Kolinchak, legal director of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, said curfews are misguided.
"It particularly has not done anything to either reduce crime committed by juveniles or perpetrated by juveniles,” she said. “If we want to keep our city safe, if we want to keep our kids safe, we really need to look at something else."
In the 1990s, fear of youth crime prompted four out of every five major cities to enact curfews. New Orleans did it in 1994.
The number of juvenile curfew arrests has risen steadily over the last four years. Last year, records show 2,541 youths were detained for violations. And this year, the NOPD is on a similar pace.
“It’s a violation,” Serpas said. “It’s something I have to do. And I don’t have any problem doing it. We encourage curfew because we know it reduces injuries.”
Right now, youths 16 and under need to be off the streets of the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street area at 8 p.m. Elsewhere in the city, the curfew is more lax. It's 8 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday, and kids get an extra hour during the summer. On Friday and Saturday, head-home time is 11 p.m.
And there are some exceptions to the rule, like teenagers out on their own block, or with their parents.
Officers use discretion when they spot a kid out at night, according to Lt. Timothy Morris, head of the NOPD's Juvenile Division.
"If you get stopped by an officer on the street he has two options,” Morris said. “He can bring you to your home and release you to your parent, or he can bring you to us.”
The NOPD's juvenile division has holding cells. The youths are detained until their parent picks them up.
Parents can be sanctioned. If found to be in violation, parents can be fined up to $500 or made to serve up to 60 days of community service, though this uncommon.
"I think it's a great law because it keeps kids out of trouble,” Morris said.
The only comprehensive analysis of the local juvenile crime and curfew issue appears to be a 2000 study.
It found that the city’s curfew had little deterrent effect and didn’t reduce crime. The research, published in Justice Quarterly, noted that juveniles most often commit crimes in the after-school hours, which aren’t covered in a curfew.
The published study thanks Serpas, who was then an NOPD deputy chief, for helping provide data for the report.
Kolinchak believes kids are kids, and that being out at night is normal adolescent behavior. She said a curfew isn't the right way to target youth crime.
“If we take those opportunities and use them as teaching opportunities, use them as opportunities to work with our kids and get them back on track, we are going to have a lot more success than if we criminalize them.”