Amid calls for reform, Houston City Council revisits citywide juvenile curfew

Houston City Council amended Houston's citywide juvenile curfew ordinance.

Houston City Council amended Houston's citywide juvenile curfew ordinance.

Since 1991, the Houston Police Department has held the authority to detain and issue citations with fines of up to $500 to unattended minors out in public during the school day on weekdays, overnight starting at 11 p.m. on weekdays and overnight starting at 12 a.m. on weekends.

Criminal justice reform advocates and residents voiced concerns about the ordinance’s criminal penalty and potential for racial profiling to City Council members June 25 and 26.

“Curfews should be important, but I think it should also be modified. Criminalization is too much,” 19 year-old resident Gloria Ortiz said. “For immigrants, if they’re going through a process of [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] approval, it could be revoked. For immigrant parents it’s very hard on them.”

Every three years, Houston City Council must review the ordinance and either renew it, with or without amendments, or let it expire. The last time the ordinance was amended was in 2007, according to an HPD presentation to council. Criminal justice reform advocates and residents are now pushing council to add new amendments or abolish it entirely.

“At the very least we would like to see the decriminalization of the ordinance when no crime is committed,” law student Destin Germany said. “...what I see here is a shattered relationship between the police and the public. If you think a minor won’t talk to a police officer without an ordinance, then that’s a bigger problem.”

Many council members responded positively to the input, although none expressed a desire to let the curfew expire altogether. Houston Police Department Lieutenant Manuel Cruz said the ordinance is an important law enforcement tool. Without it, minors are not legally obligated to speak with police officers when approached during curfew hours, he said. Officers also have no authority to detain a minor who is not engaging in illegal behavior even if the officer believes the minor is in danger by being out late at night, Cruz said.

“This may be a tool for Houston Police Department to have a conversation and identify cases of human trafficking,” said Council Member Brenda Stardig, who is chair of the Houston City Council Public Safety Committee. “If you understand the average age of victims of human trafficking, we can’t have those conversations without this tool.”

Council Member Mike Knox, a former police officer, said keeping the ordinance in place does not mean that minors will automatically be issued a citation. It does, however, permit that officer to speak to the juveniles and take them into temporary custody.

The actual number of citations issued per year has fallen dramatically since the ordinance's inception with 14,000 issued at its peak in 1996 and 137 issued in 2018, according to HPD data.

“We may have started using this thing at 14,000 tickets as a hammer, but now we’re using it as a flashlight,” Cruz said.

Changes in the pipeline


Mayor Sylvester Turner said he is working with advocacy groups as well as Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo on a proposed list of amendments, including the possibility of eliminating the daytime curfew and lowering the maximum fine.

Other council members expressed interest in lowering the maximum fine and collecting better data on the citations to ensure that they are not promoting racial profiling. Currently, HPD tracks citations for blacks and Asians but tallies Caucasian and Hispanic recipients together, which is the federal standard for tracking such data, Cruz said.

In his presentation, Cruz said the breakdown of citations in these categories in 2018 closely mirrored the demographics of Houston ISD, which Council Members Michael Kubosh and Robert Gallegos said is not an accurate depiction of the city’s overall youth population.

“I want to see a breakdown on the demographics and not show Hispanics as white when only 8.7% of HISD is white,” Gallegos said.

Houston City Council will host another public hearing July 10 at the city hall chambers on the second floor at 911 Bagby St., Houston.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


MOST RECENT

I-69 Southwest Freeway at I-610 West Loop will be closed March 5-8. (Community Impact staff)
TxDOT: I-69 Southwest Freeway at I-610 West Loop closed through weekend

The work from crews is part of the $259 million I-69/I-610 interchange project.

This month, the Greater Houston area will mark the anniversaries of its first confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as the first deaths attributed to the pandemic. (Courtesy Pexels)
Share your story: Have you lost anyone to COVID-19?

This month, the Greater Houston area will mark the anniversaries of its first confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as the first deaths attributed to the pandemic.

Leadership ISD has received $1 million in investment it will use to target inequities in HISD schools. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
$1 million investment will help education nonprofit target inequities in Houston ISD

LISD has equipped more than 2,000 racially diverse and conscious leaders to create equity changes and trained more than 200 school board trustees.

People wait in line to receive a vaccine at an Austin Public Health vaccination site. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas offers COVID-19 vaccinations to school, child care workers

Educators, school staff and child care professionals are qualified to receive coronavirus vaccines effective immediately.

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that Texas' statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, the Texas Education Agency released updated public health guidance March 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Updated Texas Education Agency guidance allows individual school boards to determine mask policies

"Under this updated guidance, a public school system's current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy," the release reads.

H-E-B will continue to require employees to wear face masks until further notice. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
H-E-B to require employees, ask customers to be masked despite upcoming expiration of governor's mandate

H-E-B officials announced their employees and vendors would still be required to be masked while on the job, and customers would be encouraged to wear masks while in stores.

A mandate will remain in effect for the time being requiring all riders to weak masks on vehicles run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, officials announced March 3.  (Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County)
Mask mandate to remain in effect for all METRO vehicles, properties

The announcement comes one day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded his mask order for the state.

Following Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2 announcement that the statewide mask mandate and COVID-19-related business restrictions will be lifted as of March 10, Harris County and city of Houston leaders are weighing in, and local health care providers are urging residents to continue to take precautions. (Courtesy Pexels)
Harris County, Houston leaders call end of statewide mask mandate a 'distraction' from power grid failures

"At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Thousands in unincorporated Harris County remain under boil notices

As of 11:30 a.m. on March 2, eight areas across Harris County remained under boil water notice affecting about 2,300 residents.

frozen tree
One in 4 Houstonians experienced water leaks during winter freeze, new data finds

Houston Public Works fielded 11,000 calls related to water issues during and after the weather event.

Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate, but Houston ISD will continue to require masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston ISD will continue requiring masks despite end of statewide mandate

"This requirement is consistent with the advice of health professionals and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," a district statement said.