As incidents of violence in Prince George’s continue to escalate, with many either initiated by youth or which result in youth becoming the victim, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks recently made the bold decision to re-invoke a youth curfew.
The legislation, previously signed into law and part of the County’s arsenal of crime prevention, had not been strictly enforced for some time. However, it became a viable solution as youth-related violence in recent months reached unacceptable proportions – often leading to deadly outcomes.
Still, some leaders and parents in the County have expressed their concerns about the curfew – even voicing their opposition to Alsobrooks’ decision along with the caveat that they doubted it would prove effective.
But with the first weekend (September 9 – 11) of the juvenile-focused curfew now behind her, Alsobrooks said she’s encouraged by the positive results reported by law enforcement.
“I thank the families in Prince George’s County who I knew would step up to the plate,” she said during an impromptu conversation with the press during a homecoming celebration that she co-hosted for local tennis star Frances Tiafoe on Friday, Sept. 16, at the JTCC in College Park.
“I am grateful to our parents and parental figures who also want our youth – their children – off the streets at night and safely at home,” she said. “It has only been one week since the curfew has been initiated but it’s already making a tremendous difference.”
Alsobrooks said specific locations where violence had become a frequent and ever-increasing occurrence, served as the foci on which law enforcement set their sights as night began to fall last weekend and the hour of the start of the curfew drew closer.
She said she knows it’s too soon to claim victory or to even celebrate but she remains encouraged. However, she noted that after a long, hot summer during which dozens of violence-related incidents occurred that increasingly involved youth, particularly in August, last weekend’s total number of incidents which took a steep decline to just two was good news for everyone.
“We saw a sharp decline during the initial weekend for the curfew and that’s a really good start,” she said. “The first reported incident involved a 16-year-old girl who was riding along with a man who had a gun in his car. Officers arrested the man, confiscated the weapon and took the girl home.”
Alsobrooks did not mention what penalties the teenage passenger or her parents might eventually have to face.
“As for the second incident, that is one which clearly shows how parents are behind this curfew,” she said. “A mother called the police after finding it difficult to enforce the curfew on her son. She didn’t want him out on the streets but was at a loss as to how to make him stay home. The police visited the home, spoke with her son and persuaded him to follow her instructions and the law and to stay home.”
Alsobrooks also thanked Sheila Tillerson Adams, an administrative judge for the County, who some have criticized for being too lenient on youth – especially youth who count as repeat offenders.
“I am confident that Judge Tillerson and the other judges who routinely deal with cases involving youth offenders are open to change because they’re just as concerned as anyone else about finding solutions to the rise in juvenile crime,” Alsobrooks said.
Tillerson Adams, while speaking recently with a reporter from News 4, said while she and her colleagues on the bench are all concerned, that they must remain true to their duty and only address the case that stands before them.
Council Chair Calvin Hawkins recently issued a warning recorded on camera by News 4 to judges who continued to let juvenile offenders off with little or no consequences for their actions, saying that they would have to deal with the council.
But Tillerson Adams reminded County residents that the judicial branch remains independent from the other branches and has no legal obligation to adhere to their demands. Still, she said she believes more innovative approaches should be employed to reduce the troubling rise of youth violence.
Alsobrooks said more wraparound services have already been initiated including increasing the hours of operation for a specifically targeted number of community centers to give youth somewhere to be that’s safe and which only allow activities that are positive and productive.
“We know we need more services and we’re working to that end,” she said. “And we are seeing more organizations from the County come forward to offer their support in a variety of ways.”
“We’re doing everything we can and we’re going to continue to work first with our parents as well as others who are willing to join us, so that people will once again begin to feel safe on the streets of Prince George’s County. Everyone deserves to feel safe wherever they live or go – that’s the goal we know we must achieve,” Alsobrooks said.
Rushern Baker Strolls Down Memory Lane on Juvenile Curfew Laws
An examination of bills considered by elected officials during earlier legislative sessions revealed that there’s no statewide Maryland curfew law that specifies a curfew for juveniles. However, each county, township or city may have an ordinance that allows for juvenile curfew laws.
According to a Washington Post report, the Prince George’s County council passed the juvenile curfew code in 1995. Its purpose would be to prevent crime by restricting children from going to public spaces after a certain time of day.
And while several Black council members voiced concern as to the enforcement of the curfew, in particular against any racial profiling from officers, according to the report, it passed unanimously.
Rushern Baker III, former county executive for Prince George’s (elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014), spoke with the Informer about the summer of 2011 when he ordered more strict adherence to the juvenile curfew code.
“The curfew laws had been around for a while before I was elected county executive but as we began to face a rise in homicides, we felt that a summer curfew would be an effective way to keep youth safe,” he said. “It wasn’t a decision that was made lightly but it proved to be a good one.”
“We were lucky because, unlike what the current county executive has been forced to address, we did not have juveniles participating in crime. Certainly not to the extent that we’re seeing now with the recent rash of car-jackings that have been plaguing our county.”
“The legislation was there if we needed it and we used it to keep our youth and others safe, too. Things are much different today but I’m confident that it’s going to get better,” Baker said.