Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a countywide juvenile curfew Monday night.
The curfew will go into effect June 21 for anyone younger than 18 and will last from midnight to 5 a.m. each night.
Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brett Watson said the purpose of this curfew is to alleviate juvenile crime in the area.
“We think that by enacting this curfew this will give us one more tool in the toolbox to try to do what we can do to get a hold of this problem and nip it in the bud before it turns into these shootings down the road,” Watson said.
Watson said in the first five months of 2021, OCSD has arrested 17 juveniles for various crimes, including murder and aggravated assault. Many of the crimes were committed with illegal weapons stolen out of vehicles. Just in 2020, Watson said Oktibbeha County residents reported 162 auto burglaries, and more than 50 percent of those burglaries involved the stealing of firearms.
While Watson said he does not believe auto burglaries are the most prominent cause of juvenile crime, he does believe this curfew will decrease the amount of vehicle break ins.
Penalties for breaking curfew will be a minimum fine of $25 at first offense, not to exceed $100, and will increase with each subsequent offense. After the fourth offense, officers could assign potential jail time to the juvenile’s parents or guardians.
If OCSO deputies find a juvenile out past curfew, the individual has two hours to contact a parent or guardian. If they can’t make contact, deputies will then contact Oktibbeha County Youth Court Judge Lydia Quarles to decide what course of action to take from there.
Curfew effectiveness, Watson said, depends upon many external factors such as where the curfew takes place and how strict the enforcement is. He said he will frequently report back to the board to give an update on success rates.
Supervisors enacted a curfew in September during the peak of COVID-19 to reduce the amount of large-group parties in the county. Watson said after the board approved that curfew, crime decreased exponentially.
“I think everyone here would agree that that curfew served its purpose,” Watson said. “… We are hoping by enacting this curfew, that a similar purpose will be served.”
Curfew training for OCSO will begin Monday, Watson said, as he wants the officers to truly know tasks and regulations they will be executing, such as writing tickets and issuing fines.
Supervisors weigh in
District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said while he wanted the curfew to be effective immediately, he understands the officers need training before anything begins.
“I wish it weren’t something that we had to do, but of course, because of all of the shootings, etc. that have gone on, and from the advisement of law enforcement all the way up to the sheriff, I see this as something that is necessary now to keep the county safe,” Montgomery said.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller said she sees how much thought and work Watson and Sheriff Steve Gladney have put into the curfew plan and hopes it will eliminate the number of juveniles that are out late at night.
“Because they are going to document this and come back to us, we’ll know whether this is having a positive effect on our community or not,” Miller said.
Mayor Lynn Spruill confirmed to The Dispatch the city of Starkville will vote on its potential citywide juvenile curfew Tuesday at the regularly scheduled board of aldermen meeting. While Starkville is inside Oktibbeha County, she said the county’s curfew does the apply to the city.
“For these matters the city has some autonomy over policing matters, much like the mask mandate,” Spruill said. “Even though the county had one, we did as well.”