Fayette County

Lexington may change curfew rules. But does proposal go too far?

Lexington youth under the age 18 will be allowed to stay out later on weeknights but will have fewer legal excuses to stay out past curfew under proposed changes to Lexington’s curfew ordinance.

Under those changes, youth under 18 caught on Lexington streets between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. would be in violation of the curfew. Police can take the juvenile home or tell the kid to go home. Parents could face a fine of up to $499.

The current ordinance, which is more than 20 years old, allows kids to stay out until 11 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 1 a.m. on weekends.

The Urban County Council General Government and Social Services Committee voted 6 to 3 to approve the proposed changes. The changes will now go to the full council for its approval. A final vote won’t come for several weeks.

Councilman Fred Brown had proposed the update after hearing complaints from many in his district about the number of petty crimes including car break-ins committed by juveniles.

“We have had the existing curfew for 20 years,” Brown said. “It appears to be outdated and is not used as intended.”

The proposed changes come on the heels of a 15-year high of 24 homicides in 2016. Seven of the 24 victims were 18 or younger.

The trend of young murder victims has continued in the first months of 2017.

In January, Robert “Bobby” Durrum, 15, died after he was found shot around 11:30 p.m. Jan. 18 on a road on Belmont Drive near Preakness Drive in the North Pointe subdivision. He had suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Citations for curfew violations are rarely if ever issued, a review of curfew violation data provided by Lexington police show.

The Herald-Leader requested the number of curfew violations from January 2015 to October 2016 through an Open Records Act request. During that time period only 17 curfew citations were issued. The data shows citations issued but not the number of calls reporting curfew violations.

Assistant Police Chief Dwayne Holman told the council that charges against parents were often dismissed by a judge. Holman said parents would tell the judge that they didn’t know their child was out. In order to be charged, a parent has to know the child was violating the curfew.

Melissa Murphy, a lawyer with the city, told the committee a work group of city lawyers, police and officials with Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts’ office decided to move the curfew to 1 a.m. seven days a week so it would be easier to enforce. Employment law does not allow kids to work past midnight.

Murphy said the current ordinance gives 12 exceptions or reasons why youth under 18 could be out past curfew. The changes remove four of those exceptions. One of the exceptions proposed for removal allows kids to be on the sidewalk in front of their homes or a neighbor’s home.

That exception was problematic.

“We have had problems with multihousing apartment units,” Holman said.

Holman said a homeless youth would not be cited under the ordinance. They would be referred to social services or to a shelter. Other exceptions that were kept include traveling from a school, religious or volunteer activity or when a kid is accompanied by a parent.

But some on council said a 1 a.m. curfew was too late.

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield.

Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe agreed.

“My dad used to say nothing good happens after 10 p.m.,” Bledsoe said. “That was true then and it’s true now.”

Bledsoe said she was also concerned that if parents are still able to use the excuse that they didn’t know their child was out, the changes to the ordinance were not enough to make it effective. Bledsoe and Scutchfield attended Tuesday’s committee meeting but are not on that committee and did not vote Tuesday.

Holman said Lexington police hope that the changes will at least put a little more teeth into the ordinance.

“These changes give the ordinance a little more teeth,” Holman said. “Whether that is enough, I don’t know.”

Fred Brown said the work group is also looking at tracking repeat offenders. Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts has also discussed sending parents a letter if a child is found in violation of the curfew law so parents know what the law says.

“I think a lot of people didn’t know that we even have a curfew,” Brown said. “I think this will help bring more awareness.”

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall