Fort Worth residents raise concerns over teen curfew ordinance ahead of council vote
Leon Reed didn’t expect to see his young neighbor on his bicycle at a 7-Eleven on a late night several years ago. The boy, at 14 years old, was sent on an errand by his aunt.
Before he could make it home, Reed said, police stopped and questioned the neighbor.
“I’m glad that I was there, because the manner in which this police officer was questioning this 14-year-old … the manner in which he was being treated, was troublesome,” Reed said.
As the Fort Worth City Council continues a monthslong process of deliberation about renewing a curfew ordinance for minors for the next three years, stories like Reed’s are being lifted as an example of the dangers of further criminalizing Black kids.
Police leaders say the ordinance is a way to cut down on crime and keep kids safe, but some residents say it puts kids of color at a greater risk of a negative interaction with police.
“It’s hard enough to tell our kids with a straight face to trust police officers,” Reed said.
Reed, a member of the L. Clifford Davis Legal Association, spoke at a listening event organized by District 6 council member Jared Williams on Jan. 23. Concerned residents filed into the gym of the Hazel Harvey Peace Elementary campus, where they took their seats to listen to city officials and community members alike on the nitty gritty of the ordinance.
“The safety of our kiddos is something that’s really important to me,” Williams said. “It’s even more important to me now, as the father of a 4-week-old.”
Laetitia Coleman Brown, deputy city attorney, told those gathered that she’s old enough to remember when the curfew ordinance was still fresh. The ordinance was put into place in 1994, Brown said, while she was attending Texas Christian University and became her responsibility to enforce when she joined the city’s legal team in 1997 as a prosecuting attorney.
The curfew applies to anyone under 18 years of age, between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Brown explained that the ordinance, while typically thought to apply to minors, also holds some adults accountable. These include the parents of a minor who broke curfew, and business establishments who let the minor reside there after the hours of the curfew. Either could get a citation.
There are some exceptions, she said, including if minors are with their parents; on an errand at the direction of a parent; working at their job; involved in an emergency; on the sidewalk of their home; or attending an official recreational, religious or school activity.
“I look at the teen curfew as a caretaking function,” assistant police chief Robert Alldredge said. “When we issue citations, we don’t take them to jail. We call the parents, we call the guardians … it is not a tool for stop and frisk.”
Resident Sharla Courtney-Williams, who attended the listening event, said there’s often a gap between stated policy and practice. She pointed to the disparity in curfew violation data, where Black minors are disproportionately cited compared to their white peers.
“When I saw the data, I said, ‘What problem are we actually solving?’ And what problems are we creating?” Courtney-Williams said.
Alldredge said in a council work session that some of that disparity, specifically the high number of Black teens cited in 2020, can be explained by a single incident. Then, according to police, 10 Black teens were cited together after a neighbor called the police to report they were walking through a neighborhood and pulling on door handles.
“This is a plausible explanation due to many of the restrictions that were put in place due to COVID and young individuals attending school virtually,” according to an informal report presented to council members.
Courtney-Williams said at the end of the day, she’s not anti-police, but she is pro-kids. To her, that means doing anything she can to reduce the burden and stress of being a Black kid in Fort Worth.
“As a former educator, I’m just hyper-focused on youth issues, and I know that the younger kids engage with law enforcement, the more likely they are to have repeat engagements with law enforcement,” she said. “So we have an opportunity to decrease any potentially harmful law enforcement engagement with kids.”
Multiple residents expressed concern that a curfew violation, which is a Class C misdemeanor, could follow children for the rest of their lives. Municipal court director William Rumuly said kids who receive a citation under the curfew ordinance can participate in teen court and see their citation removed from their record. Participating teens will also have their $500 fine forgiven.
Some Texas cities, including Austin and Waco, have repealed their curfews for minors, citing similar concerns about a racial bias in the way it was enforced. In 2019, there was a push at the statehouse by then-State Rep. Celia Israel to ban cities and counties from enforcing such curfews. It was ultimately unsuccessful.
Others, like Dallas, continue to enforce their curfews. There isn’t any data on the impact of minor curfews on the crime rate in a city, generally, including in Fort Worth.
“I cannot produce a negative,” Alldredge told council members at the work session. “I can’t say, if I took this person off the street, it prevented them from being a victim of a crime … It’s very hard to make a correlation.”
For some residents, that’s not enough.
“If you don’t have the data on decreasing crime, you’re not measuring anything (with the curfew),” Courtney-Williams said.
District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck suggested several changes to the curfew ordinance at the work session, including changing the penalty for a first-time violation to a written warning. If there is an additional offense, Beck said, the minor should be cited for the curfew violation instead of the additional offense.
“It’s a tool. It’s one to use when appropriate,” she said. “And I think the focus should be how we operate on the back end. And I think if we’re going to frame this as a caretaking measure then it should be treated as a caretaking measure, once it leaves PD, and it goes to municipal courts.”
Another public meeting on the curfew is scheduled Feb. 1 at Hazel Harvey Peace Center. Council members are expected to take a final vote on the curfew ordinance later in February or March.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.