The Austin City Council on Thursday decided to do away with the city’s 27-year-old daytime curfew for juveniles, but extended the city’s nighttime curfew for people under 17 until Oct. 1.
At the meeting, most members seemed to support the idea of ultimately decriminalizing the late-night curfew, though, council will not reconsider that until the fall. The city's daytime curfew allowed police to issue Class C misdemeanor citations to minors on the street during school hours; the nighttime curfew allows police to cite minors between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The council also loosened the continuing curfew, however, asking the Austin Police Department to enact a policy of issuing two warnings before citing a student.
Council Member Greg Casar pushed for that outcome, but still expressed disappointment in the city's policy of citing minors for curfew violations.
“It is irresponsible for our City to continue authorizing our police to arrest teenagers without any probable cause of a crime, other than being young and out in public," he said in a statement after the meeting.
Council members heard roughly an hour of testimony on the topic, with speakers testifying overwhelmingly in support of doing away with the city’s tradition of allowing police to issue citations to students for being out in public during school hours.
Several students testified, including one young man with Youth Rise Texas who described how his friend was cited with a curfew violation for going to the store late at night.
Morgan Craven, with the social justice advocacy group Texas Appleseed, also expressed disbelief about the ordinance still being in place.
“Funneling young families into the justice system hurts them, period,” she told council. “This ordinance puts kids into adult criminal courts and exposes them to the harms of that process. And we know from research that a single court appearance can increase the likelihood that a student will drop out of school.”
According to representatives from the municipal court system who testified, 95 percent of these curfew cases do not lead to criminal charges, but instead are dismissed or students are placed in diversion programs that offer alternatives to court penalties. But Council Member Ora Houston suggested that juveniles' interactions with police, and with the municipal court system, may benefit them down the road.
“I’m going to say it again and I know this makes some people uncomfortable,” she said. “Sometimes this is the intervention my parents need and my kids need in order to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to get this together.’”
But Council Member Delia Garza struck back.
“This idea that this is the only way these children will get services and this concern that, ‘How else will I connect these children to services?’ assumes that they either haven’t been connected to services, or that there is no other way for them. And there are other ways for that.”
By nixing the daytime curfew, council members went against the wishes of the Austin Police Department. APD interim Chief Brian Manley said the curfew is one of the few ways officers have of interacting with young people. He said that doing away with the curfew also makes the department open to possible litigation. In the case that an officer approaches a young person and it escalates into a physical altercation, the officer could be without legal protection.