Jersey Village City Council voted 3-2 at a Nov. 19 meeting to reauthorize its juvenile curfew ordinance for another three years. Council members James Singleton and Bobby Warren voted against the measure.
The vote took place after a public hearing, the second of two such hearings required each time the council votes on the curfew. Residents at the hearing spoke both for and against the curfew, with most of the opposition questioning whether stopping an individual based on their age is a violation of their constitutional rights.
“Our officers should make stops based on suspicious or criminal acts, not just stopping by someone’s age,” resident John Baucum said. “Truancy issues should be corrected through our education system, not our criminal justice system. This tool simply isn’t needed in my opinion.”
The council votes on whether it wants to reauthorize the curfew every three years. Aside from being active during school hours, the curfew is in place overnight from 11 p.m.-6 a.m. from Sunday night through Friday morning, as well as 12:01 a.m.-6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It applies to all individuals under the age of 17, according to the city code of ordinances.
Jersey Village Police Chief Eric Foerster said he believes the curfew helps his department keep crime low but clarified that he could not say for sure to what extent crime would increase without it.
Juvenile traffic stops have increased from 136 in fiscal year 2015-16 to 264 in FY 2017-18, Foerster said. Over that same time, juvenile arrests have increased from 16 per year to 31 per year, and juvenile citations decreased from 42 per year to 32 per year.
“I think there’s a story in the numbers, and the numbers are we need the curfew,” Foerster said at the meeting.
In explaining their votes against the ordinance, both Singleton and Warren argued that the curfew could be seen as a violation of the fundamental rights of those who are stopped by police.
Warren cited a ruling on juvenile curfews made by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 that found a curfew can be constitutional, but a city has to show the curfew is serving its best interests and that it is as narrowly tailored as possible.
“If we are talking about someone’s fundamental rights, is just the fact that the ordinance is a useful tool—one of many—the threshold we want to use to affect someone’s fundamental rights?” Warren said. “What I’ve heard today is it’s not that necessary because we really don’t have clear statistics on how often it’s being used. We also have some other options we haven’t considered.”
Those who supported the ordinance—both on the council and among the public speakers—said they trusted the police department and did not want to make any changes that would make their jobs harder.
“As a longtime resident of Jersey Village, and knowing that most people who live here have chosen to live here because of our police department and fire department, I just really don’t understand why people would want to take this tool away from our police department,” resident Susan Edwards said.
Council Member Greg Holden said he understood the concerns from some residents, but he trusted the Jersey Village Police Department not to abuse the power granted by the ordinance.
“As long as the standards in our police department are upheld and the interactions they have with the juveniles are showing the respect people deserve, then I’m going to trust our police chief,” he said.