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Ahoskie Council revisits youth curfew

AHOSKIE – It’s a simple matter of public safety.

When members of Ahoskie Town Council met Tuesday morning, Mayor Linda L. Blackburn and council members expressed great concern over the city’s youth hanging out on the streets in the middle of the night. They made it perfectly clear that while curfew laws must be enforced, activities for youth should be established as alternatives to gathering in the streets.

Councilman Ronald G. Gatling provided a vivid picture of youth gathering at locations throughout the town late at night. He said it’s a problem across the town and in particular on First, Catherine, Hayes and McGlohon Streets.

Gatling said he has traveled those streets at 1 or 2 a.m., observing males and females hanging in the middle of the streets or standing beside their bicycles talking. He also noted that when a vehicle approaches as if to pass them or ask them to move, they exhibit anger or shout obscenities.

According to current town ordinance, curfew hours run from 12 midnight until 6 a.m. seven days a week for those 18 and under.

Mayor Blackburn agreed with Gatling, adding that she has also been on the receiving end of such abuse.

&uot;I’ve even backed my car up to go around on another street,&uot; Blackburn said. &uot;When you are a woman alone, it’s a frightening experience.&uot;

Gatling added that Ahoskie should have police officers on these particular streets enforcing the town’s curfew laws.

&uot;This is a real problem and I want it addressed,&uot; Gatling said.

Ahoskie Police Major Jimmy Asbell responded to Gatling, explaining that his department is doing all they can in spite of being under staffed. He added that police officers would rather take a pro-active approach by patrolling the streets prior to youth gathering in the streets.

Asbell said it is a difficult task since they have only 17 officers and more than triple the number of calls to which they responded 20 years ago when there were 18 officers.

&uot;Right now, we answer 270 to 300 calls a week,&uot; said the Major. &uot;In the past week, we paid overtime to two officers and it did help the situation for the time they were out there.&uot;

As discussions continued, Town Manager Tony Hammond introduced a request from Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh requesting approval of the purchase of five Model X26 Tasers, small pistol shaped electronic devices. Tasers combine the injury reducing benefits of traditional stun technology with stopping power via Electro-Muscular Disruption (EMD) technology.

On behalf of the chief, Major Asbell advised council that tasers are reducing injuries to suspects as well as officers, and at the same time are effective tools in law enforcement.

Hammond explained to members of council the town has not budgeted for the tasers, which would cost, with training materials and supplies, a total of $5,440.57. He added that after discussions with other municipalities similar to Ahoskie in size, evidence shows a significant reduction in injuries to officers and suspects.

Officers would go through intense training on use of the tasers and Chief Fitzhugh will establish policy procedures, Hammond added.

&uot;Best of all, the purchase will be offset by a decrease in personal injury and additional revenues will accommodate the purchase,&uot; Hammond said.

Major Asbell added that with revenue collected from traffic tickets and other violations, the city would have the extra money this year to accommodate the purchase.

After listening to the discussion, council members voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the tasers.

As for providing activities for youth, local resident Jerri Duck asked council to consider two proposals. Duck said the old Ahoskie High School gymnasium could be utilized for &uot;Midnight Basketball,&uot; an activity that has proven successful in clearing the streets of other cities.

&uot;I know the town would see a drastic change if the gym was open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights,&uot; Duck said. &uot;I am certain that male citizens in this area would volunteer their time as security and monitors and the youth would love the opportunity to play ball as long as they want.&uot;

Duck also reminded council of a request she made in a previous meeting.

&uot;We could bring free concerts to the city during the summer months,&uot; she said. &uot;Concerts could take place Tuesday or Thursday nights with participants bearing the expense.&uot;

Mayor Blackburn said Town Council would take no immediate action on Duck’s proposals, but instead would take her suggestions under advisement.

Blackburn also suggested Major Asbell contact Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan to discuss the possibility of the sheriff’s office assisting with enforcing Ahoskie’s curfew laws.

BREAKING THE STORY HERE WOULD RESULT IN 740 WORDS FOR ABOVE

According to Ahoskie City Ordinance 1999.1, hours for curfew are from 12 midnights to 6 a.m., seven days a week for juveniles 18 and younger. It is also a violation of city code for a parent to refuse to take custody if an officer brings a child to the home, and no business, amusement centers or individual shall not allow a juvenile on their premises during curfew hours.

Curfew hours ban hanging out on public streets, sidewalks, alleys, parking lots, theaters, restaurants, schools and their grounds, places of business and amusements, playgrounds, parks and any other public area.

The ordinance also states that a parent or guardian of a juvenile commits an offense if they knowingly allow or fail to control a juvenile in violation of curfew.

A person charged with violation of the curfew law will be given a warning citation at first offense. A second offense results in a fine of $50 if found guilty and a third violation will be punished according to N.C. General Statutes. Also, any juvenile violating the curfew law can be adjudicated delinquent.