Riverdale enforcing youth curfew

By Ed Brock

Every Friday and Saturday night, 16-year-old Eric Russell is out after midnight.

"I'm going to the movies, going to teen clubs," Russell said.

He's been stopped by police before for being out at a time when state law essentially sets a curfew for kids his age, and they usually just ask for his identification. Russell, who lives in East Point, said he often winds up in Riverdale.

But in the next few months Riverdale police will be stepping up their enforcement of that city's curfew ordinance.

"If they crack down on the curfew I can't come to Riverdale," Russell said.

The stepped-up enforcement is just one thing the city is planning to keep young people safe when upcoming spring and summer weather draws them outside, said Riverdale City Manager Iris Jessie.

"It's just to try and stay ahead of any problem we have with kids hanging out," Jessie said.

According to the city's ordinance it is prohibited for any minor 17 years old or younger "to loiter, wander, stroll or play in or upon the public place ... (including streets and roads as well as places of amusement, vacant lots and eating places) in the city unsupervised by any adult, parent or guardian" during curfew hours. Those hours are between 11 p.m . and 6 a.m. on most days and midnight to 6 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

There are exceptions to the law, along with the minor being in the company of an adult.

If the minor is on an emergency errand at the direction of their parents or other adult, if they are going directly home from a school, recreational or entertainment activity or from a job or when they are in a motor vehicle with parental consent. Emancipated minors are also exempt from the law.

"Our goal is number one to do an educational approach that there is a need for kids to be at home unless there's a reason," Jessie said.

Jessie said that an example of a problem is when youths leave certain events or legitimate activities and then go to the corner gas station or other local just to hang around.

"That's what we're trying to prevent," Jessie said.

The county law enforcement used to have curfew sweeps primarily near the AMC Movie Theater, Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske said. They stopped because the state law allows teens to be out during curfew hours with good reason, such as waiting for rides after a late movie.

"They were capturing these kids and charging them when they may have had a legitimate reason (for being out)," Teske said. "The law was not intended to pick those kids up."

Teske said there is a case out of Fayette County that set the precedent for exceptions to the curfew law. Police there stopped a teen-age boy who was driving his scooter home from his grandmother's house, initially stopping him for a broken tail light.

The teen was charged with curfew violation and found guilty, but when he appealed the appellate court overturned the verdict because the teen had a reason to be out.

Jessie said she's sure the city's enforcement of its ordinance will be within the state's guidelines. Punishment for violation of the curfew include fines and being made to pick up litter on streets and public places.

Teske said the curfew law has a good purpose, but in the end its up to parents to enforce it.

"Good, effective parenting is going to involve keeping your kid at home before midnight," Teske said.

Some parents don't have rules or just don't enforce them, Teske said, and their children suffer for it.

"Those are the type of kids I see in my court," Teske said.