State your case: Do curfews help reduce crime?

After 7 people were shot, including a child, an Illinois mayor announced an indefinite curfew. Our experts debate the pros and cons of such a measure


After 7 people were shot, including a child, East Saint Louis (Illinois) Mayor Robert Eastern announced an indefinite curfew in a bid to curb criminal activity. 

In a recent poll, half of Police1 readers said they have not found curfews to be an effective measure to curtail violence. 

A total of 647 Police1 readers answered this Police1 poll.
A total of 647 Police1 readers answered this Police1 poll.

Read our columnists' take on this issue and share your opinion below.

The ground rules: As in an actual debate, the pro and con sides are assigned randomly as an exercise in critical thinking and analyzing problems from different perspectives.

Our debaters: Jim Dudley, a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau, and Chief Joel Shults, EdD, who retired as chief of police in Colorado.

Joel Shults: The curfew argument begins and ends with statistics, with public perception sandwiched in between. Calculate the percentage of violent and serious property crime that occurs after dark, figure out when most businesses stop relying on foot traffic and late-night customers, establish a lawful ordinance with the proper exceptions and, boom, you have reasonable grounds for making contact with anyone after the appointed time.

This turns reactive police work into proactive police work. It also eliminates claims of unlawful discrimination in who gets contacted and who doesn't. Being present where the law says no one should be present is automatic probable cause. That doesn't mean that cops get the automatic right to do a pat-down, but it does place the officer in a more advantageous position.

In advance of the imposition, messaging should be frequent and clear about the law and what to expect when contacted by police for a suspected curfew violation. In addition to articulating the need for the survey, follow up quickly with measures of success (or not) of the curfew after it has been in effect. Not a brain strain to justify this strategy to save lives and make the community safer!

Jim Dudley: Curfews are a version of zero-tolerance policies. Do we really want to alienate a whole generation of youth based on targeting the relatively small percentage of bad actors?

We have already pigeon-holed millennials as selfish, entitled and living in their parents' basements. Can we expect Gen-Z and those who come after, to become mature and responsible young adults by telling them they must remain home after 10 p.m.?

Scooping everyone up in a net in the name of curfews would only further divide the police and the community. It’s not healthy and the domino effect will surely hurt businesses that promote social interaction and commerce.

One important tenet of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is to actually bring groups together in clean and well-lit public places to “keep more eyes on the street.” It may be counterintuitive to your argument, but people are actually safer in vibrant and populated spaces.

The height of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders showed that chronic offenders and scofflaws continued to commit crimes. I’m not sure enforcement of curfew laws as infractions or misdemeanors would be worth an officer’s exposure to resistance and complaints.

Joel Shults: Jim, I think the potential for problems is less an argument against curfews and more an outline for managing curfews.

Emergency orders during natural disasters and major disturbances seem to be readily accepted by the public with little sympathy for the scofflaws who defy those orders. Law enforcement should make every effort to show that a curfew is not a law enforcement crackdown that will disproportionately affect any certain demographic, but a community-led strategy from civic leadership in which police are partners with business and social services.

The COVID-19 lockdowns are less tolerated now than during the first pandemic wave, and anything that smells like police oppression won't be tolerated well either. Providing alternatives, plenty of advance notice, community input and specific enforcement guidelines can help avoid the very real pushback that you articulate.

Goals for the curfew should be well established and, like any goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) to ensure accountability and guard against over-reach. Without good planning and collaboration, your worst fears are likely to come to pass. 

Jim Dudley: Before we turn to curfews, let’s re-instate gang injunctions that actually focus on high-risk offenders. Instead of paying them $300-$1,000 to promise NOT to shoot each other, let’s sanction them, not the general populace that falls under the age range of those “most likely to ……,” which once again, paints young people with a broad stroke that law enforcement is often accused of painting.

Like the 18th Amendment, prohibition and the Volstead Act, the anti-alcohol law that turned law-abiding citizens into criminals overnight, let’s not make the repeated mistake. Instead, let’s turn our attention to the high-risk, chronic offenders and support juvenile probation officers with the tools to allow them a reasonable span of control, monitoring technology and a follow-up system of sanctions to place on offenders.

Forget curfews and instead, let’s trust our young people to act responsibly and become our citizenry of tomorrow.

Police1 readers respond: Do curfews help reduce crime?

  • Though they may enhance prevention and protection efforts to immediately address a specific crime, there are likely many unintentional consequences as the result of issuing an indefinite, or "blanket" curfew that covers an entire jurisdiction. Furthermore, leadership must remain aware of their jurisdiction's capabilities to successfully enforce such an order. Curfews may be effective on a short-term basis targeting specific areas of our jurisdictions, but they must remain situational and leaders should define thresholds that when met enable the curfew to be lifted, loosened, or tightened based on the totality of circumstances.
  • Curfew enforcement gave a good probable cause to stop and talk with a person or persons who appeared to be underage and without adult supervision. In some circumstances, it could remove a young person from a dangerous situation if he/she was taken home or into the station to await the arrival of a responsible adult. It also served as documentation of where this person was, at the time of the violation, and any companions present. I looked at it as being pro-active, rather than reactive.
  • Yes, because 90% of bad crime happens between the hours of 11 p.m. - 4 a.m., well at least in the city I live. Most crimes occur when people are sleeping or working night shifts.
  • No, look at Baltimore when they had their rioting going on. A curfew was in place and no one obeyed it. Everyone was out, even the city leaders, when only the police should have been on the streets.
  • On paper, curfews work because they keep people off the streets during times when crime is most likely to occur. In reality, they keep law-abiding citizens off the streets. Criminals, by the very definition, do not follow the law. If someone is contemplating murder does anyone really believe a curfew will stop them?
  • This is compounded by the fact that some law-abiding citizens must be out (shift workers) and will now be solo against the criminal elements – no more strength in numbers. Is it easier to spot would-be criminals? Sure. Does charging them with a curfew violation deter other criminal activity? Doubtful.
  • A curfew in those circumstances appears to be knee jerk reaction and possibly aimed at reducing unnecessary movement on the streets. If the shootings aren't connected then the police have an issue but good old-fashioned detective work would be a better way.
  • A curfew alone only hurts the law-abiding and is just feel-good politics with no real community benefit. If it's used in conjunction with allowing patrol to make contact with people in violation of the curfew, combined with detective and intelligence follow-up, it can be effective intelligence-based policing.

NEXT: 6 reasons why CPTED should be part of every agency's crime-fighting plan

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