MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee police are now actively enforcing the city's curfew for people under 17 years old. But it's not just young people who get a ticket for being out late. Parents and businesses also face fines.
TMJ4 spent time looking into the history, specific wording, and potential legal challenges of the citywide curfew.
Milwaukee's curfew ordinance has been in effect for decades, just not always actively enforced. It was drafted in 1943 to ease the workload of the police department, which was spread thin during World War II.
Milwaukee Attorney John Birdsall says some of the wording is dated and ambiguous.
“I don’t think this will make much of a difference on the streets of Milwaukee,” said Birdsall. “I think it’s going to have little effect.”
According to Milwaukee’s curfew ordinance, anyone out in the city who is under 17 years old, must be accompanied by a parent or guardian between 10 p.m. - 5 a.m. Sun-Thurs, and 11 p.m. - 5 a.m. Fri and Sat.
If found in violation, kids and their parents face separate fines between $90-$200.
Birdsall also confirms that under this curfew any businesses that could be of interest to kids and teens at night - movie theaters, arcades, restaurants, even hotels – would technically need to start checking ages/identification and make sure they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, or they could be fined as well.
Birdsall says the language of the curfew ordinance gets unclear when it specifically states there are exceptions for minors who are exercising their First Amendment rights, "including freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the right to assembly."
“There's no way that police on patrol, or businesses, or even parents are going to be able to define that,” said Birdsall. “Courts cannot even define those terms. I’m preaching for religious reasons at the gas station that’s open at midnight. Or, I’m making a speech about social conditions in Milwaukee on this street corner. I know that’s going to ridiculous lengths, but that’s what a judge would have to wrestle with if something like this showed up in court.”
Birdsall believes it could open the police department and city up to lawsuits.
“If someone is making a claim along those First Amendment lines, there will also be some harassment claims against the police because they say I look suspicious or am in violation of practicing my freedom of speech, religion or assembly. That could be a liability for the city in certain circumstances.”
Still, most parents we spoke with, think reenforcing Milwaukee's curfew is a step in the right direction.
“I think it's a good idea.” said Chloe Stingley. “Would parents rather face a ticket or an injured child doing the wrong thing at night?”
“I’m all for it,” said Davina Turner. “It’s getting out of hand. Anything to keep more young people safe in Milwaukee is a good thing.”
But there are some parents, who like Birdsall, think enforcing a curfew is a way for leaders to appear to be taking action, without really doing much to change the root causes of violence and crime in Milwaukee.
“If kids are stealing cars and using guns, and parents are not parenting in the first place, issuing them a citation isn't going to do much,” said Wilbert Davis. “We have to find positive things for these kids and adults to do. They need more programs and places to do constructive things, and a lot of that is missing here. It’s bigger than a curfew citation.”