Juvenile curfew enacted

Published 9:12 am Thursday, September 27, 2012

MURFREESBORO – Citing an effort to protect the safety of its younger citizens, the Murfreesboro Town Council has approved a curfew for juveniles (ages 16-and-under).

While that new ordinance takes effect immediately, Town Administrator Brandon Holland said implementation will be gradual.

“We’ll go through the process of educating the public first,” said Holland on Wednesday, the day after the Council voted to adopt the new ordinance at their regularly scheduled Tuesday evening meeting. “I feel certain that the police department will first issue warnings in an effort to educate the public before they start handing out citations.”

Holland added that the ordinance may undergo some change or amendments to the document as council sees fit.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Holland gave a brief description of how the ordinance came about. He said it was during a meeting with State Senator Ed Jones in June where it was recommended by the local legislator that a statement needs to be sent to the community that town officials are concerned of the well-being of the children and they are a high priority.

“What is being proposed for council’s consideration is a 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. curfew during weekdays of the school year to ensure these children are not skipping school,” Holland said. “The other side of this is to keep children off the streets during the night from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. That will be year-round. This policy ensures that our children are in school when they’re supposed to be and not be subject to the possibility of harm during nighttime hours.”

“The main purpose of this, according to Senator Jones, in his words, is that the children belong either in the school house or your house during these hours,” said Murfreesboro Mayor John Hinton.

Upon opening a public hearing on the issue, Murfreesboro resident Walter Thomas said, “My question is that our community watch group wanted to do this five years ago; why did it take a senator to have to push this? We were noticing this five years ago that throughout the day during the school year we were seeing kids walking the streets. We suggested back then a three strike and you’re out rule – if a police office saw a child on the street during the school year, get his or her name; if you see them again, get their name, address and parents’ names; the third time you need to find mama or daddy. You are right, there are too many children out on the street during the day; they need to be in school.”

“That’s pretty much the way this ordinance is written…first we get their name, then a name and address and then we get up with the parents,” noted Mayor John Hinton.

Councilwoman Gloria Odum asked what implications are there for the parents of the children who are found in violation of the curfew.

“What we can do is some sort of fine that council can set, that is completely up to your discretion,” replied Holland. “We have the ability to set a fine and that should get some people’s attention, but please keep in mind as you consider this that court costs are already set at $150.”

Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe encouraged council members to fully read and understand the proposed policy prior to making a decision.

“Obviously the intent of this is to ensure that our children are not on the street during school days and late at night, but looking at this I see where exceptions will have to be made, like the Watermelon Festival as an example,” Rowe said.

Rowe also pointed out a portion of the policy that addressed if a parent refuses to take custody of a child that is detained due to breaking curfew.

“More often than not you’ll run into a situation where a parent will say they cannot control their child,” Rowe noted. “We all need to be well educated on this and I feel that if you approve it there needs to be a time period prior to actual implementation where the public can become educated on this. My officers do not need to go out and immediately begin enforcing this. People in town need to know about this before we begin enforcing this.”

Rowe also asked what action was needed if one of his officers came across a youngster breaking curfew that was under the age of 16 and from another town.

“Do the officers transport that child back to their home,” Rowe inquired. “That takes one of our officers away from his regular patrol of the town.”

Murfreesboro citizen Ed Buck pointed out that some local children were home-schooled, meaning their hours of class time may differ from a child enrolled in public or private school. Fellow citizen Jennifer Whittington added to that thought by saying that the State of North Carolina does not require a set number of daily instructional hours for a child enrolled in home school.

“We need to research this more so we can cover such issues as you just mentioned,” Odum replied to Buck. “We first need to make the public aware.”

“There is a clause within the policy that states if a parent approves, a child can be out on the street during these curfew hours with written permission,” Hinton said.

Councilman Hal Thomas noted there were exceptions to the 10 p.m. nightly curfew – where a juvenile was traveling between home and their place of employment, church or school related functions or while accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Odum motioned for the acceptance of the ordinance with a second from Mayor Pro-Tem Sarah Wallace. It was approved without objection.

For a complete copy of the new ordinance, visit the Murfreesboro Municipal Building during regular business hours.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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