The Chattanooga City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would change the city's existing curfew policy for teenagers.
Curfew now begins at midnight for those 17 and under. However, council members said they would prefer to match the city's curfew to that of the state of Tennessee, which is more restrictive. Under state law, curfew begins at 11 p.m. for anyone 18 and under. It goes even further for those 16 and under with a curfew that begins at 10 p.m.
During earlier meetings discussing the possibility of changing the curfew, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod said she thought doing so would help limit public safety concerns, particularly in Coolidge Park and the downtown area. Previous attempts to limit violence in both locations include a curfew placed on the park in March 2011 that prohibited teens from visiting between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless accompanied by an adult and the addition of 10 extra patrol officers to the area in 2013.
Both efforts were put into place after groups of teenagers were involved in shootouts.
"Kids shouldn't be outside at 11 o'clock at night. They should be at home," Coonrod said.
Under the ordinance passed Tuesday, they would be.
It prohibits any minor between the ages of 17 and 18 from visiting "any public street, highway, park, vacant lot, establishment or other public place within the county" Monday through Thursday between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and Friday through Sunday between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. Those 16 and under are prohibited from the same spaces after 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and after 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Parents with teenagers will be responsible for enforcing the curfew and can expect to face $50 in fines for each violation if they "knowingly permit or by inefficient control" allow a minor to stay out late. According to the ordinance, "knowingly" includes knowledge that a parent or guardian should reasonably be expected to have concerning the whereabouts of minors in their custody.
"The term 'knowingly' is intended to continue to keep neglectful or careless parents up to a reasonable community standard of parental responsibility through an objective test," the ordinance said. "It is not a defense that a parent was completely indifferent to the activities or conduct or whereabouts of the minor child."
Some exceptions under which minors could be out after curfew are outlined in the ordinance as follows:
— Any time they are accompanied by their parent or guardian.
— When accompanied by an adult authorized by their parent or guardian to take the place of that guardian for a designated period of time and purpose within a specified area.
— Until 12:30 a.m. if the minor is running an errand for their parent or guardian.
— While engaged in lawful employment activity, or while going to and from work, as long as the minor has in their possession written evidence of employment issued by their employer.
— Until 12:30 a.m. if they are on the property of or the sidewalk directly adjacent to their home or the place immediately adjacent to their residence, with the permission of the owner of said property.
— Until 1 a.m. when returning home by direct route within 30 minutes of the end of a school, religious or volunteer activity, or a place of public entertainment, such as a movie, play or sporting event.
— When a minor is, with parental consent, in a motor vehicle engaged in "good faith" interstate travel.
— In the case of necessity, after a minor's parent has communicated that need to law enforcement.
— When exercising First Amendment rights protected under the United States Constitution, with signed evidence detailing such exercise provided to law enforcement by written communication beforehand.
The first time a teenager is found in violation of curfew, a warning will be issued to their parent or guardian and they will be taken home unless the law enforcement officer who apprehended them feels more action is needed.
Following a first offense, a minor found violating curfew may be taken into custody and transported to a designated curfew center. A summons may be issued to the minor, parents or guardians to appear at juvenile court, or the minor may be brought into the custody of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court at that time.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at email@example.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.
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