Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Do We Need A Daytime Curfew?


Recently the Costa Mesa Police Department, as part of their comprehensive plan to reduce gang activity in our city, recommended the establishment of a Truancy Ordinance, which amounts to a daytime curfew for school age children. The Daily Pilot provided a good overview in an article by Alicia Robinson here.

I watched the CMPD presentation before the city council at the study session and also watched a handful of concerned parents speak to this issue before the council at a subsequent meeting. I agree with most of the views expressed that night - this smacks of authoritarianism. Quite honestly, I'm not surprised that this city council is considering such a move. They have demonstrated many times in the past that they are more than willing to compromise the rights of residents to attain their own personal goals.

At a time when we've seen actions proposed by Mayor Mansoor and his majority cause a rift between the Latino community in this city and the government, including the police department, do we really want the Costa Mesa Police Department to be tasked to become truant officers? At a time when we should be attempting to build relationships between the police and the youth of this community do, we really want our officers randomly stopping kids who might legitimately be away from their campus for a variety of reasons?

What guidelines will they use for stopping children during school hours? Will they stop the white kids driving their mother's Mercedes to the skate park? Will they stop and interrogate the Latino children waiting at a bus stop for transportation from school to their after-school job on the other side of town? Will they sit in the Wendy's parking lot on 17th Street on Wednesday afternoons and cite the hoard of rowdy urchins from Ensign Middle School who descend on that fast food store each week?

What about those college students at OCC who look younger than their age? Will they stop them as they travel to and from that school?

Will this be a "zero tolerance" ordinance, with no room for the exercise of judgment on the part of the officers? If not, what are the parameters of this flexibility? Will every kid with brown kid be cited and every kid with white skin be warned?

What kind of identification and authorization must a child show to prove he or she is legitimately off campus during school hours? Will they be required to prove legal residence? Will they be taken to jail for a truancy infraction, where they get passed before the resident ICE agent? If that seems like a stupid question, I guarantee you there are children on the Westside of our city wondering about that very issue?

It seems to me that this is a perfect topic for those young people involved in the Youth in Government program to contemplate. It would be very interesting to get the viewpoints of those involved, bright young people who will live with this decision before casting it in stone.

The school district is charged with the care and education of our children during school hours. I suspect that if we returned to a time when there were closed campuses and an enforced school uniform policy many of the problems of children wandering throughout the neighborhoods during school hours would diminish. Drive past any high school in the district during the normal school day and you'll see a continual flow of children coming and going at all hours. I read of the procedure currently in place and wonder just why that's not successful in controlling truancy. Perhaps the district needs to tighten up the enforcement of their own policies before suggesting we unleash a draconian daytime curfew.

Many of you have dismissed out of hand my assertions in the past that our current elected leaders are tending to resemble the leaders of Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II. This, I'm afraid, is just another example of that kind of behavior. Before we unleash the good men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department with an open-ended, inadequately defined plan for the interrogation of our kids, more reasonable, rational consideration should be given to this kind of plan.

Yes, we have a growing gang problem in Costa Mesa. Yes, we need to provide the police department tools with which they can combat this problem. I, along with many of my fellow Costa Mesans, are concerned that this approach proposed by the CMPD will only exacerbate the fracture in relationships between the police and a demographic group representing more than a third of our residents. Not only that, but it has the very real potential to create animosity and distrust among the children that are part of the remaining two-thirds.

I urge more debate and caution before this curfew plan is codified.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous DVS said...

Not that our petulant mayor would care about my views on this, but I have to agree that it raises a lot of questions. The first one that cam to my mind revolves around non-standard school times.

For instance, Early College High School has a 9:15AM or 10:00AM start time depending on the day.

Different districts have different days off.

How will the CMPD keep up on all of this? What about kids shopping at South Coast Plaza from the Irvine School District that have a day off that NMUSD kids do not? Or the local private schools? What about home schooled kids?

These issues alone seem to provide enough obfuscation that any rational person would find it maddening to track. Are we really going to burden our limited number of police officers with this kind of minutia?

3/27/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

I am a huge fan of the CMPD, but I think they are wrong on this one. They KNOW who the gang members are, for the most part. Let's target them, not make the City a virtual police state for the under 18 crowd and those who look young. We have enough issues with blatant and dangerous traffic violations, why burden the police department with chasing kids? Plus, if it is true that there are an average of 148 unexcused absences a day for CM schools - that speaks to a failure on the part of the school district to track its students!

Since we have no breakdown on the ages of those absent every day, lets assume that it is evenly split by grade. That means that 74 are from junior and high school kids. Is the threat of 74 teens roaming the City unaccounted for REALLY worth instituting such a draconian policy?

I don't think so. Our civil liberties are too important - lets not gibve the police an excuse to start stopping and questioning everyone who looks school age.

I don't think the CMPD has bad intentions, but lets just eliminate the possibility of essentially arbitrary detention of people based on their looks alone.

I wonder where Coyotl, the great defender of freedom, is on this one? How come he isn't down at City Hall barking at the council on this one? Random, arbitrary stops based on appearance alone? Sounds pretty (some sort of "ist") to me!

3/27/2007 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous dvs said...

Dear Mr. Dickson,

I agree 100% with your analysis. I believe that the teachers and administrators at the schools know who is involved or at risk of being involved to a measurably accurate degree. I think the gang intervention team would be better served to meet with those students parents and discuss with them their child’s situation. I think having a school administrator and a police officer visit you and describe their child’s specific behavior and associations would certainly go a long way toward helping a parent understand the risk their child faced.

What value is there in making an entire generation feel suspect if they happen to be legitimately off campus? Very little in my mind.

3/27/2007 11:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Kent Morrow said...

Costa Mesa police also endorse the curfew. It allows police to write tickets to kids caught out of school, who get a fine or community service. The threat of a ticket seems to have more effect psychologically on getting kids in class than the threat of facing a review board, Costa Mesa Police Lt. Clay Epperson said.

I think you have it correct Geoff, they won't be stopping the white kids.

3/28/2007 07:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Have you guys checked out the Pilot's comment board on this? I brought up the civil liberties aspect (targeting people based on appearance alone) and was accused of being a conspiracy theorist (black helicopters, etc.)

I am getting a LOT of resistance to my points, and mostly by the same crowd that usually AGREES with me about illegal immigration.

Last time I checked, advocating respect for the Constitution was a GOOD thing, yet these guys are practically ridiculing me on this curfew. I am really, really curious as to the real motivation. Sadly, I think Kent has a point.

3/29/2007 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Dorian said...

There are plenty of punky kids out there to target, white, brown, etc... Let jsut send a message, you never know maybe the schools will get better with parents having a bit of responsibility

3/29/2007 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Dickson said...

Andrew,

That is certainly true - there are punky kids out there thumbing their noses at school. It seems like I am in the minority on this one, and a curfew may be implemented. A number of other Southland cities have them in place. Lets hope that the CMPD Lt. (Epperson?) quoted in the article is right, and they wont have to enforce it on a regular basis.

I also want to set the record straight - I don't think CMPD is going to be abusing this if it gets enacted. I attended the Citizen's Academy and witnessed first-hand what a tremendous department we have. They are professionals who take their responsibilities seriously.

My issue is that a curfew DOES run against both the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution, because there is a built-in margin of error due to the inherent subjectivity. I'm not trying to be preachy, but this really is serious stuff.

DVS is correct - the schools KNOW who the troublemakers are. It makes much more sense to target them and their parents. The good kids aren't truants or gang members - why impact them?

3/29/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Dorian said...

Rob - The PD should work with the schools to go after habitual offenders; that being said it would be worthwhile to have a standing ordinance to use as probable cause to detain as needed troublemakers. If I remember my old Criminal Justice days, correctly, minors do not have the same standing under the law and this has been argued immensely. I don’t see CM going down a slippery slope since many other municipalities have curfews.

3/30/2007 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Thanks to each of you for this intelligent debate. It's much appreciated and a refreshing relief from the typical comment threads attached to most Daily Pilot articles. I rejected no comment presented on this stream.

3/30/2007 03:44:00 PM  

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