Austin City Council discusses readoption of juvenile curfew ordinance

It's a decades old ordinance and one many said is needlessly criminalizing children.

The "Juvenile Curfew Law" allows the Austin Police Department and Austin Independent School District officers to give tickets to kids for being out during certain times without their parents.

The ordinance comes up every three years at city council and they have to decide of it will be readopted.

In 2017, some council members said it should not be renewed and the dozens who showed up to testify agreed. Hannah Ford is a mother of three who home schools her children.

“You can drive a car which is a huge responsibility, you could kill somebody, but you can't just be outside in the daytime.” Ford was one of dozens who testified against the current ordinance.

She among many others said it's outdated, racially profiles, and criminalizes children. “For another kid who doesn't have support or resources, that could be the beginning of a really long bad story,” she said.

The current ordinance allows APD and AISD officers to ticket kids under 17 for being out during school hours and late at night without a parent. Those caught face a Class C Misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500.

“For them to prove that they had a valid reason for being out of school is on them, and I just don't think that it's a good public safety policy to preemptively criminalize children who have no intention of committing a crime,” said Council Member Ellen Troxclair who is a co-sponsor on a resolution to have a group research it and see if there's a better solution.

“Our public safety resources are really valuable and our police time is a really valuable commodity, I want them to be able to spend their time addressing violent crimes in our city not ticketing kids who happen to be walking down the sidewalk at a certain time,” she said.

APD Interim Police Chief Brian Manley said in the last three years APD and AISD combined issued 2123 citations, about 2 tickets a day. He said the current ordinance or something similar is needed. “If they are 13 or 14 years old and they are out at 1am or 2am, are they out to do something that is in violation of the law other than the curfew? Or are they potentially going to be victimized by somebody that is out there doing crime?”

Ford said kids are still humans and just because they are under 17 doesn't mean they shouldn't be out after dark. “That is not by itself dangerous, if they are doing some other mischief then fine, there are laws for that. They should be able to just be out and about without getting stopped and getting a criminal record, it's just overkill,” she said.

The council decided to extend the current ordinance with only the evening curfew portion doing away with the daytime curfew. They also agreed two warnings must be issued before an actual ticket.

Council also voted in favor of having a study group to research the issue and come up with a better solution, no later than October 1st.