Detroit police seek 4-day youth curfew for fireworks

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The City Council is weighing a request from the Detroit Police Department to extend the fireworks curfew for children from one day to four, a move that civil liberties advocates say is unnecessarily restrictive.

The proposed emergency ordinance would apply citywide to children 17 and younger. It would run from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. June 19-22, covering the River Days festival as well as the June 22 fireworks on the Detroit River.

Youngsters not accompanied by a parent or guardian during curfew hours could be detained and their parents ticketed. Nearly 150 juveniles were detained during last year's fireworks.

"Like the past three years, the Detroit Police Department is asking City Council to approve an emergency curfew ordinance," June West, a Detroit police spokeswoman, said in a statement Wednesday. "DPD is committed to making this a safe, family-oriented fun event for everyone who wants to come downtown to enjoy the fireworks."

The ordinance request maintains a four-day curfew is necessary "for the preservation of the public peace, health, safety and welfare of the people of the city of Detroit." A public hearing on the curfew plan is set for June 10.

The ordinance notes that on the day and evening of the fireworks, "there have been numerous incidents of harassment, nuisance, vandalism and violence," in some cases committed by unsupervised minors, at viewing, parking and public places.

The request concerns some council members and riled the American Civil Liberties Union.

Council President Brenda Jones on Tuesday claimed that some police officers have complained to her that the move is "a little racial," saying it appeared to target African-Americans. She noted many other events don't face such strict requirements.

"There might be other days that you all need to look at about expanded curfews as well," she told city lawyers.

"Other days when you have other races that are here and doing some of the same things. They don't have expanded curfews. Maybe we need to expand the curfews on some of those days."

Council member Andre Spivey said Tuesday: "There are a lot of racial overtones" to expanding the curfew. He said he was looking forward to hearing more from the police about why it was necessary.

The city's Law Department stressed that with the stricter requirements, there also will be additional exceptions.

Among them, minors would be permitted on the sidewalks in front of their homes and to run errands for parents, with written permission, the proposal notes.

Even so, William Goodman, an attorney for the ACLU, argued before the council on Wednesday that the proposal raises constitutional concerns. If it goes through, a legal challenge could follow, he warned.

Adika Singh, a legal intern for the ACLU, said that while the law may be convenient, convenience "doesn't justify locking kids up in their homes."

"This is an unprecedented ordinance," she said. "I have not seen anything like this across the country."

The council could vote on the measure, which may be amended, at its June 16 meeting.

Last year, the council adopted a one-day 6 p.m. curfew.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez added that while she recognizes the police concerns, she believes that "we have a tendency to criminalize young people."

Last year, nearly 150 juveniles were detained at the 56th annual Ford Fireworks for violating curfew and faced fines from "parent responsibility citations." Ninety-one boys and 55 girls, ages 17 and younger, were taken into custody, police said.

Their parents were issued a citation for $50. Detroit police said all of the children were picked up by their parents, who faced a $500 lodging fee if they failed to pick up their kids.

Failure to pay the fines could be punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.