Posted by Chris Oberholtz, Multimedia Producer - email
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
It has been nearly two years since a summer curfew came to Kansas City's five entertainment districts.
Kansas City councilman Jermaine Reed, who represents the city's 3rd District, was the first councilperson to emphatically point out during a recent council meeting that only African Americans have been cited for violating the summer curfew ordinance.
But when KCTV5 asked Reed if he thought enforcement of the curfew has been racist, he seemed surprised.
"That's, that's a direct question," Reed responded to KCTV5 investigative reporter Cameron.
Taking time to gather his thoughts, Reed eventually explained that he is very careful not to accuse police of targeting African Americans.
But when looking at the curfew tickets, Reed thinks it is fair to ask whether police have been ordered to keep African American children away from the Country Club Plaza on summer nights.
"It has only been in the Plaza and it's only been African Americans," said Reed in reference to the 34 summer curfew tickets issued to date.
Sgt. Gregory Williams is one of the lead officers with the Kansas City Police Department charged with enforcing the summer curfew.
KCTV5 asked him if police are targeting African American youth.
"No. We're not out looking for anyone specific. They (the kids) dictate it based on their actions," Williams explained, referring to juveniles who have been arrested for violating the ordinance.
According to Williams, it is rare for police to detain a juvenile on a summer curfew violation alone.
Instead, he says officers issue a verbal warning first and then arrest minors only if they get into a fight, cause large disturbances or run from police afterwards.
Reed still has his doubts.
"When I see information particularly that speaks to race I am going to ask the questions," Reed said. "It may make some feel uncomfortable, but I think it's important to ask the tough questions and get to the bottom of it."
Looking to "get to the bottom" of the summer curfew debate, KCTV5 sent an open records request to the Kansas City Municipal Court to obtain all the citations issued under the summer curfew ordinance.
According to court officials, seven of the 34 cases are now closed and marked confidential. As a result, only 27 files could be turned over.
Sifting through those cases, KCTV5 confirmed Reed's claim that all of the juveniles cited for violating the curfew were African American.
In addition, police have not issued a single ticket outside of the Plaza since the ordinance passed.
But race and location of the offense are not the only data contained in those citations.
The age of each juvenile picked up is also listed.
In reviewing the curfew case files, KCTV5 found that the average age of a summer curfew offender is 13 years old.
The youngest was a 3-month-old boy who was apparently in the care of a 14-year-old relative. Court records show the same adult receiving separate citations for both boys.
"That's very alarming to me," Reed said. "You can't just go somewhere and drop your kid off. I would be the first to encourage a parent to make sure they are doing their job."
Passed in August 2011 after several publicized episodes of violence on the Plaza involving teens, the curfew is an attempt to hold parents more responsible for their children.
Accordingly, when a child gets picked up alone, parents are the ones ticketed and summonsed to appear in court.
However, KCTV5 discovered that of summer curfew cases analyzed, 22 percent of parents never showed up for court and a bench warrant was issued. In addition, 30 percent of the fines remain unpaid.
With respect to parental fines, the ordinance allows for a maximum penalty of $500. But according to the court records reviewed by KCTV5, the highest fine ever handed out was $100 and that only happened three times.
The average penalty was just $40. Nearly two-thirds of all parents cited only ended up paying the city $20.
For several weeks, KCTV5 tried reaching out to Mayor Sly James to discuss the summer curfew, asking whether the low fines were actually deterring parents from dropping their children off on the Plaza.
His schedule did not clear before KCTV5's story deadline.
In an email, Danny Rotert, the mayor's former Chief of Communications and current City Communication Director, wrote that the lack of tickets and a general lack of issues on the Plaza this summer are an indication the curfew is working.
Sgt. Williams agrees.
"Most of the kids we see are really good kids," Williams said. "Only a small percentage of kids, one to five maybe out of a hundred even cause any issues. And then the group thing takes over and we have these large altercations."
The summer curfew begins the opening Friday night of Memorial Day weekend and extends through the last Sunday night of September.
The most recent altercations on the Plaza happened on two weekend nights in April, a little more than a month before the summer curfew went into effect.
Those fights and the alleged success of the summer curfew spurred Councilwoman Jan Marcason to sponsor an ordinance to make the curfew year round.
If passed, the new curfew would permanently require that unaccompanied minors stay out of the city's five entertainment districts after 9 p.m.
So far, the City Council has not acted on the idea.
The proposed ordinance still sits in the Kansas City Public Safety Services Committee while council members wait to analyze more data and debate the need for an extended curfew.
Councilman Reed, who sits on that committee, doubts the full council will vote on the proposed ordinance anytime soon.
Unless there is some data indicating that the summer curfew has helped reduce overall juvenile crime in the city, Reed said he is inclined to oppose the proposed extended curfew.
"I don't want to us to do a knee jerk sort of reaction to say we're just saving the Plaza," Reed said. "Let's look at real solutions as to how do we find things for young people to do throughout the city."
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
Tuesday, July 22 2014 7:14 PM EDT2014-07-22 23:14:19 GMT
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