Former city councilman Bill Gavin used to say that nothing good happened after midnight. That’s a message the Columbus Police Department wants the public to take to heart, as it will start cracking down on juvenile curfew violations.
The move is coming following an uptick in violent crime — including the shooting death of a 16-year-old last week and a subsequent shooting into a house in the same neighborhood — and the upcoming end of classes for the summer at local schools.
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens made an emotional plea during Tuesday night’s council meeting for CPD to start enforcing the curfew.
“Anytime you lose a 16-year-old, it’s painful, and I feel that pain,” Mickens said. “… Summer is coming up, and it’s not going to get no better. Crime is going to get worse. I hate to speak it, but it’s the truth.”
Mickens urged the police department to enforce the curfew.
“I don’t care if it’s my grandson,” Mickens told Police Chief Fred Shelton. “I want to see those tickets being written. We got to put our foot down. … My former colleague on the council, (Gavin), said can’t nothing good happen after midnight. I know we’re down in staff, but we need to enforce (the curfew).”
The city ordinance, which was passed in the 1990s, set in place a nighttime curfew for those under 18 years old. It is illegal for minors to “remain in or upon any public street, highway, park, sidewalk or other public space” between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 12:01 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Friday or Saturday nights.
On a first offense, violators will be taken to the Juvenile Detention Center, and they will be released to their parent or guardian without charges. If it happens again, the parents will be fined $50 or five hours of community service. For a third offense, the penalty increases to $100 or 10 hours of community service. Subsequent offenses could render a $500 or 50 hours of community service for the parents.
Minors out after curfew with a parent or guardian are exempt. Minors may be out after curfew in a window 30 minutes before to 30 minutes after work, if they are employed, while going directly between home and work. The exemption also applies within 30 minutes of the end of a school- or church-sponsored event.
An activity log provided by CPD to the city council as part of the agenda package Tuesday night showed that so far in 2022 there had been one juvenile curfew violation, which was recorded in March.
Shelton told the council there are limited beds available at the Juvenile Detention Center.
“That is the facility that serves the Golden Triangle area, and the issue is going to be housing all these children as well as getting their parents to come and get them,” Shelton said. “We might look at adding something additional to the parent or guardian.”
Shelton assured Mickens that CPD would start cracking down on curfew violations, effective that night.
Assistant Chief Doran Johnson, speaking at Wednesday’s mayoral press conference at City Hall, said police can stop juveniles on sight during curfew hours.
“If they are out during (curfew hours) we have probable cause to stop them and question them,” Johnson said.
Mayor Keith Gaskin said the curfew is helpful, but other solutions to youth violence are needed.
“Recently having a 16-year-old that was shot and killed is shocking and discouraging,” he said. “I’m really appreciative to citizens who have reached out to me looking for ways to engage our kids. … We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”
Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill told The Dispatch that her city had enacted a juvenile curfew in June 2021.
Starkville’s ordinance restricts minors between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Exemptions are similar to those in Columbus.
Spruill said it was enacted in response to a spike in juvenile crime.
“We were having a whole lot of juveniles who were going through subdivisions and breaking into cars and stealing guns,” she said. “It’s been effective.”
Oktibbeha County does not have a juvenile curfew at this time, according to Sheriff Steve Gladney.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.