The Kansas City Council unanimously approved on Thursday a new curfew law.
The council is imposing separate curfews for entertainment districts and the remainder of the city. The ordinance will take effect this weekend under an emergency measure.
The curfew will be 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. for those 17 years old and younger in the areas of the Country Club Plaza, Zona Rosa, 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, downtown and Westport. This will be in effect from the Friday before Memorial Day through the last Sunday of September.
Those areas will have the same curfew as the rest of the city during the remainder of the year.
The curfew for the rest of the city will be 10 p.m. during the summer months for those 15 years old and younger. Those 16 and 17 years old will have an 11 p.m. curfew.
The curfew from the end of September through the end of May will be 11 p.m.
A conviction will bring a fine of up to $500 and court costs for the offender's parent or guardian. In place of a fine, the parent and child could go to counseling sessions and the parent would receive probation.
The City Attorney's Office will finalize the ordinance Friday and Mayor Sly James will sign it on Friday. This means the curfew changes will be in effect Friday night.
Councilman John Sharp opposed passing the measure immediately, saying the council needed more time to study the measure and undertake a thoughtful, rather than rushed, discussion.
But he said there was a "huge improvement" by boosting the fine that parents would have to pay.
"The current $1 for the first offense is a joke," he said. "I hope the curfew works."
He said it will be up to the Kansas City Police Department to actually enforce the ordinance to ensure it makes a difference. He said just passing an ordinance does not make a difference.
He also said he is concerned that the council is sending a message that certain areas of the city are more important than others. He sought to make the curfew changes citywide but ultimately voted for the measure the other council members supported.
Kansas City Police Chief Jim Corwin began the council discussion by saying the police department currently does not have the resources to handle a citywide 9 p.m. position.
Corwin described a citywide 9 p.m. curfew as the "nuclear solution."
"I would not be going with the nuclear solution first," Corwin said.
During the discussion, James suggested that offenders could be taken to community centers and kept busy playing basketball or other activities until their parents pick them up.
"That wouldn't require jail space, wouldn't require many more officers and would certainly accomplish the purpose. Wouldn't you agree?" James asked Corwin.
But Corwin scoffed at such an idea.
"That is a fantasy at best," he said. "Because we all know with the best laid plans that the devil is in the details."
The current ordinance calls for an 11 p.m. citywide curfew on weeknights and midnight on weekend nights for those 17 years old and younger. A parent whose child violates the law only has to pay $1 now.
The council changed the city's curfew law in wake of violence last Saturday night on the Plaza that grabbed national headlines. Three teens were shot just 50 yards from James, who was at the Plaza along with other community leaders in hopes of quelling issues from large groups of teens roaming the shopping and entertainment district.
Even before Saturday night's violence, the owner of the Plaza had asked for a 9 p.m. citywide curfew, citing problems with large groups of teens roaming the shopping and entertainment district well into the night.
Corwin said his officers need more training on dealing with juvenile offenders before they should actively begin rounding up curfew violators.
Some council members were clearly unhappy when Corwin refused to discuss the police department's tactical plans for dealing with crowds of teens and young adults on the Plaza this weekend.
Members of the public also addressed the council.
The Rev. Sam Mann urged the city to concentrate on getting weapons off the streets. He also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of a citywide curfew.
"It's the guns that are the issue," Mann said.
Changing the current curfew law divided council members.
"I think a curfew is important because we need to send a strong message to our young people and our parents," said Councilwoman Jan Marcason whose district includes the Plaza.
But Councilman Michael Brooks said a curfew change "is not going to solve this problem."
"We have got a parenting problem. We have got a discipline problem," Brooks said. "Criminals aren't going to do the right thing whether they are suppose to be home at 9 or 10 (p.m.)."
The mayor ultimately said the issue must be resolved by more than just the city and parents. He said this is an issue for everyone.
"The city cannot do this alone," James said.
He became emotional as the council prepared to vote on the curfew law.
"I am tired of excuses," he said. He said "one idiot" with a gun can ruin lives.
The ordinance does allow for a child to be out past the curfew when in the company of a parent or guardian, on an emergency errand or returning home from a school event or a job.
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