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Jonesboro adds sanctions to teen curfew ordinance

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Jonesboro City Council unanimously approved revising its teen curfew ordinance on Monday, making parents accountable if their children are out and about in the city late at night, without adult supervision.

Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox and the city's Police Chief, Franklin Allen, said the ordinance essentially now has a sanction if someone under 16 is traveling around in the city without being accompanied by a parent or guardian after a state-, and city-mandated curfew of 11 p.m.

Maddox explained that Jonesboro police will be tasked, under the ordinance, with picking up any children found violating the curfew, and taking them to the Jonesboro police headquarters. The parents of the youths will then be called, he said, and they will have to come pick up their children. Upon picking up their children, the parents will be given a citation which will require them to appear in court and pay a fine, he added.

"We're going to make the parents responsible for their children," Maddox said.

Allen said the amount of the fine parents would have to pay for their children being out in the city, after the curfew, had not yet been set. He said the city's municipal court judge will have to set the fine. He said the judge had to wait until the city council voted to approve the sanctions, before setting the fine amount.

Allen and Maddox offered two explanations for why the ordinance had to be changed to require sanctions. Maddox said city officials have been getting complaints about teenagers walking the streets of Jonesboro at "all hours of the night," particularly as spring approaches and overnight temperatures begin to rise. "People are concerned about it, and this will give us a way to curtail that activity," the mayor said.

Allen said the ordinance is also in response to issues the city has been having with a particular spot that has been hosting teenage parties. The location, which is in a shopping center that previously housed an Ingles grocery store, is located at 242 Stockbridge Road, in Jonesboro.

Allen and Jonesboro City Council member Pat Sebo said the facility has been operating more like a club for teenagers, rather than a place that rents out space for teen parties, as it was approved to function.

"What we've been having a problem with is this teen club over there," Allen said. "At 11 o'clock [p.m.], the promoter closes the club to comply with our city ordinance, and dumps all of these teenagers in the parking lot, and then they're left for us to deal with."

Sebo and Allen said they did not immediately know the name of the person who owned the property, or who had the business license to hold teen parties at the facility. Maddox said the city may end up declaring the property a "public nuisance," and revoke the business license for the teen party rentals, if police continue to be called there to respond to fights.

The police chief said another problem with the teen parties is that Jonesboro police have been called to the location at least 8 times in approximately four months, to respond to fights at the parties. After a party on Saturday, Allen said, a 16-year old male "threw an elbow" at a Jonesboro police officer who was trying to break up an altercation in the shopping center's parking lot.

Allen said the 16-year old looked at the officer and said "I'm basically bigger than you. You can't do this. [The officer] went to put hands on him," said Allen. "He [the 16-year old] shoved an elbow at him, and [the officer] effected the arrest." Allen said the teenager was released to his parents, and his case will be handled in Clayton County Juvenile Court.

Of the altercations reportedly taking place at the property, Sebo said "it's definitely a serious situation waiting to happen."

Allen said the city is moving to hold parents accountable for the whereabouts of their children because the juvenile court system is not "equipped" to handle the issue.

"Right now, under state curfew, if you get a child out here who violates curfew, then all you do is pick him up, do a juvenile petition, [and] call mom to come get him," Allen said. "There's no sanction. There's no penalty. But, with this ordinance, we actually have the power to cite the parent, and basically send the message 'You need to control your child's behavior, and monitor where they're at.'"