June 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

COLUMN

Detroit curfew rule misses problem

Who is to blame when kids violate curfew? (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

If Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has any spare time, the Detroit Police Department could use his good sense.

On Sunday night, Ausmus decided not to send relief pitcher Joba Chamberlain to the mound to pitch against the Cleveland Indians. Chamberlain had already thrown three days in a row, and Ausmus gave him the night off.

Would the manager have been roundly criticized if he had put Chamberlain into his fourth consecutive game? Probably not, but Ausmus acted with his eyes on the big picture.

The following night, the Detroit police cast aside any respect for the big picture and yet claimed victory. At Mondayís Detroit Ford Fireworks, more than 100 teenagers were detained for being out after curfew, but none of their parents were cited or fined.

With that decision, law enforcement officers have done nothing effective, potentially funneling scores of kids into juvenile court while ignoring the need to hold their parents accountable.

The police did what was easier, not what would actually address the central problem.

If Ausmus had risked injury to his pitcher just to have the best chance to win the next game, he would have demonstrated a lack of proper perspective. Ausmus understands that the mere appearance of a small victory does not negate the need for a more deeply-rooted solution.

Why is that logic lost on the police?

Detroit Police Sgt. Michael Woody stated that to cite parents for their childrenís curfew violations, prosecutors must show that parents ďhave knowledge that their kids were out after curfew time.Ē

Wait, what?

When itís after curfew hours and their kids arenít with them, parents donít have knowledge that their kids are out after curfew?

One of several outcomes will happen next. First, the cited teens could be fined. Most wonít pay up, and the juvenile court system will waste untold hours and thousands of dollars tracking down small amounts of money. In addition, the court could sanction the teens for non-payment, plunging them further into the juvenile justice system while their parents remain unscathed.

The teens could be processed through the juvenile court from the outset with other possible penalties, further sapping scare public resources. Alternatively, law enforcement and the court system could choose to do nothing more, ensuring that neither the kids nor their parents will learn anything.

As a juvenile justice advocate, I oppose many approaches to nighttime curfew ordinances because they are inconsistently enforced or are simply misplaced. The vast majority of juvenile crime happens in the after-school hours between 3 and 5 p.m., not late at night.

However, because nighttime curfews are not going away, I lay most of the blame for curfew violations squarely at the feet of uninvolved parents. By targeting parents, the court system will collect fines and compel parental accountability.

Viewed broadly, if the police really think the nighttime curfew will accomplish anything, they must also believe kids are a threat to themselves and others by being out late.

If so, parental accountability is the only solution that produces real change ó not just the appearance of increased safety.

Matthew House is a juvenile justice advocate and family law mediator in private practice in Portland, Oregon.