The La Marque City Council on Monday unanimously approved an amended version of its youth curfew ordinance, after vigorous public hearings over the past several months.
The ordinance, which has been in place in one form or another for 50 years, must, under state law, be renewed every three years to remain active. La Marque failed to renew it in 2017, meaning the curfew was expired for two years and was revisited this year by the city council.
No more than 10 citations had been issued for curfew violations while the ordinance was lapsed, Police Chief Kirk Jackson said. All of those had been dismissed, according to the municipal court.
Community concerns were raised at council meetings, including objections to some of the language in the ordinance and a debate over whether such curfews tend to criminalize, rather than protect, youth.
Council member Casey McAuliffe opposed renewing the curfew until Monday’s vote. She argued there was no evidence to support the idea that youth curfews decreased youth crime and because curfews might cause unnecessary community tension.
“My disagreement about this in no way means I mistrust our police force,” McAuliffe said Monday before introducing three amendments to the ordinance.
The council approved an annual review of the ordinance at a public hearing each February, during which the police department would present data about the number of interactions with minors, the number of accidents involving minors and the number of arrests each year involving minors.
The council agreed that the amended ordinance include a mandate for more police training in de-escalation during heated situations and mental health crisis intervention training for officers.
It also agreed to coordinate with the police department to produce an educational video for youth about their rights when approached by police, as well as appropriate interaction with police when approached over a curfew violation.
McAuliffe praised the public process, characterizing it as a good example of a democratic process in which people could disagree and still reach consensus.
Several La Marque residents participated in Monday’s public hearing, expressing support for a youth curfew, but qualifying their support with concerns about youth perception of law enforcement and the need for civil interaction.
Police responsibility and understanding will be key to the amended curfew’s success, Councilman Keith Bell said.
“We don’t want our children in the criminal justice system,” Bell said. “We want our children to be protected, not prosecuted.”
“The police will be expected to do more, and I think they will do more.”