LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
In Baltimore, young people are adjusting to life under a tougher curfew law. For 20 years the city has required kids to be inside at night during the summer, but now unaccompanied children younger than 14 must be in by 9:00 every night year round. Baltimore's curfew is one of the strictest in the nation. Julia Botero reports that many people are unhappy with the change.
JULIA BOTERO, BYLINE: The sun has set outside the Fort Worthington Elementary School in east Baltimore. Ulysses Cofield, or Coach U, is trying to keep an eye on the time.
ULYSSES COFIELD: What time is it?
BOTERO: Coach U keeps the gym open late so kids in the neighborhood have a place to blow off steam before bed. It's 8:30, and he needs to make sure his younger kids make it home within the next half hour. Cofield tells two 10-year-olds it's time to go, and then scrambles to determine which boys still playing basketball need to leave too.
COFIELD: What time do you got to go home?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You're 15, right?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: No, I'm 14.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah. He's 14.
COFIELD: Mom is not going to be happy if I sent her son at 8:30, and he gets stopped, and he comes home with a fine.
BOTERO: Baltimore officials say the curfew is meant to protect children and keep them out of trouble. City Councilman Brandon Scott believes if a child is out late, the city should intervene to protect that child. Scott used to run a curfew center.
CITY COUNCILMAN BRANDON SCOTT: I've been there and seen the 4-year-old come in. I've had a little child tell me that they got caught on purpose so they can eat. I've seen how young these children are that come into the center that are out unaccompanied. And that's unacceptable.
BOTERO: But whether a stricter curfew is the solution is up for debate. Ken Adams is a criminal justice professor at the University of Central Florida.
KEN ADAMS: There's really no evidence to show that they work.
BOTERO: And he points out, requiring children to be at home does not guarantee they will lead productive lives.
ADAMS: Sometimes kids are out on the street because they want to get away from the home situation because it's so dysfunctional or dangerous.
BOTERO: Baltimore will connect children with social workers who can provide the family with resources they need. If a child is picked up more than once, their parents can be charged as much as $300 or be required to attend family counseling.
COFIELD: Ain't you supposed to be in the house? What time is it? Ain't you supposed to be in the house?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Yeah. I'm on my way there. I got work.
COFIELD: Oh, all right.
BOTERO: Even as Coach U closes the gym for the night, he's still scanning the block for kids. He'd rather be the one to check-up on them before police do.
COFIELD: Being from this neighborhood, my worry is my 17-year-olds and my 15-year-olds who are on the up-and-up, you know, walking home and being harassed or profiled or, you know, searched. Or you don't have a ID, so we're going to take you in. It's going to be hard.
BOTERO: Cofield says many of his older boys are standoffish when it comes to police, like Taiwan Tucker. He's tall and looks older than 17. He's been playing basketball with Coach U since he was little.
TAIWAN TUCKER: Like, I get harassed walking around, for real. Police just walk to me, like, see what I got on me or something. Like, for real, I'm not even doing nothing. I just deal with it.
BOTERO: Baltimore officials say their curfew is not like Philadelphia's or Kansas City's because it's intent is not to simply reduce crime in tourist areas. But Ken Adams says Baltimore's expansive kid-focused approach requires a lot of resources. And that can be hard to sustain. Plus it can be difficult to get police to continually enforce the curfew.
ADAMS: They see curfew laws as putting themselves in the place of surrogate parents or, worse yet, surrogate babysitters. And they don't see that as part of their job.
BOTERO: The Baltimore police have recently been trained on dealing with youth. And to emphasize that those caught violating curfew are not considered criminals, the city says most children out late will be transported in vans, not the back of police cars. For NPR News, I'm Julia Botero.
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