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.
SHARE THIS STORY
By Emma Whalen

Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.


MOST RECENT

The Burger Joint
Burger Joint opens long-awaited Heights location

The new location includes full bar service and an expanded 3,300 square-foot patio.

Learn about the candidates in the running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Representative for District 18. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
US Representative District 18 Republican primary: 6 contenders vying for nomination

Learn about the candidates in the Republican primary race for U.S. House District 18.

The Brazos Street bridge at Spur 527 was in the process of being rebuilt, but now city officials are rethinking that plan. (Courtesy Houston Public Works)
With Brazos Street bridge gone, officials consider a different approach

On hold since December, the reconstruction of the Brazos Street bridge on Spur 527 has presented an opportunity to Houston officials to rethink the area as a pedestrian-friendly green space.

Cheetos Cheese Pickles from Biggy's (Courtesy Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo)
Cheetos cheese pickles, mac and cheese eggrolls, deep-fried cheesecake: 93 food spots to try during the 2020 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

From tried and true to something new, the food options at this year's Rodeo include classic staples and crazy concoctions.

Montrose TIRZ
Montrose TIRZ moving forward with Livable Centers study, a roadmap for investments

In a matter of months, Montrose residents could start to see public meetings and other opportunities to provide input on the development of the community.

The Houston First Corp. operates city-owned convention and entertainment facilities. (Courtesy Visit Houston)
Audit of Houston First Corp. finds faults in agency's procurement process, lack of transparency

Among the findings in the audit was a $400,000 contract awarded without going through a competitive bidding process.

The Houston ISD school calendar for 2020-21 includes the districtwide holiday and day of community service in honor of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta on March 29. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Houston ISD releases 2020-21 calendar: See what days off students will have next year

The school year begins on Aug. 24 and ends the following May 27, before Memorial Day.

US Congress
U.S. Representative District 18 Democratic Primary: Incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee faces six challengers

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee faces six challengers in the Democratic Primary. Get to know the candidates here.

Lanny Bose, Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers
Texas House District 134 Democratic Primary: Meet the candidates on the ballot in 2020

The winner of the primary will face incumbent Rep. Sarah Davis in November.

District 14 Sen. Kirk Watson announced Feb. 18 he would be resigning his state Senate seat to work in higher education. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Kirk Watson resigns state Senate seat, takes post at University of Houston

The former Austin mayor will become the founding dean at the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Early voting begins Feb. 18 in the 2020 Texas primary. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Primary election Q&A: Democratic candidates for Texas House District 147

Three Democrats are competing for a spot on the ballot for the Texas House of Representatives District 147, covering parts of Montrose, Midtown, downtown and southeast Houston. No Republican candidates filed for the election. Incumbent state Rep. Garnet Coleman and opponent Colin Ross answered questions about their campaign priorities. Candidate Aurelia Wagner did not respond to requests for submissions as of Community Impact Newspaper 's press time. Answers may have been shortened for length.

The Houston ISD board meets twice monthly, once for agenda review and once for official business, at the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Houston ISD trustees walk back proposed $3 million for metal detectors

Almost a month after a student was killed in a shooting at Bellaire High School, the Houston ISD board of trustees on Feb. 13 pulled back on a proposal to expedite the use of metal detectors across the district, instead asking for more discussion and research on effective safety strategies.

Back to top