PINE BLUFF, Ark. (KTHV) - Children aged 17 and under are not allowed to be out alone in Pine Bluff. That has been the case for a while, but police officers in the city are now instructed to take that law seriously.
The Pine Bluff Police Department started a strict enforcement of the city’s curfew ordinance this week, to coincide with the start of the school year. The ordinance has been in place since 2009, but for the most part, officers have not enforced it.
“Before we start that strict enforcement, we’re trying to warn and make everyone aware of it,” said Assistant Chief Kelvin Sergeant.
Children are not allowed to be out, without adult supervision, between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. on school nights; between 12:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on weekend nights; and between 9:00 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.
Sergeant, however, stated than 3:45 p.m. was meant to be a stand-in for the end of the school day, so enforcement might end at 3:00 p.m., instead.
A handful of students milled about outside Pine Bluff High School after school on Tuesday, and they had mixed opinions about the value of the curfew.
O’Nyah Harris, a sophomore, said she supported it.
“Because of everything that’s happening in the community today, we kinda need a curfew,” she stated.
Kendrin Hicks, a freshman, argued that it should either being removed or shortened.
“We could be playing street ball, walking to the store, or anything,” he said.
Sergeant said officers would make more patrols in neighborhoods, especially those around schools. He said students who skip school often congregate in abandoned homes.
Patrolling for curfew violators becomes another task for PBPD officers, but Sergeant says a recent switch from 10-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts will preserves the department’s resources.
“Well, with the eight-hour shift, we put more patrol officers on the streets,” he explained, “so I don’t think that us doing this strict enforcement is going to put a strain on the manpower.”
Sergeant said teens are responsible for a large amount of the crime in Pine Bluff, often when they should be in school. Harris agreed that bailing on class is a big problem. “The people in my generation,” she mentioned, “I know they like to go smoke, they like to skip school, stuff like that.”
Sergeant said truancy leads to more than simply drug use: “doing other type of thefts, burglaries, and sometimes up to sexual assaults, so [curfew enforcement is] going to curtail some of those crimes.”
If an officer finds a minor out during the hours of curfew, s/he has a couple options for how to deal with the child.
“If they’re not in school and they’re walking down the street at 12 or 1pm, we’re going to stop, detain them, find out who they are, where they should be,” Sergeant explained. “Then we’re going to take them back to the school. If the school will not accept them, then we will try to find or locate a parent and turn them over to their parent. If we can’t locate a parent, then we will take them to jail.”
If the child appears before a judge and is found to have broken the curfew, their parents may be forced to pay a fine, the amount of which could vary based on the child’s criminal history.
Sergeant said the timing of the curfew enforcement is not related to the recent deadly shooting outside the Merrill Community Center. Many children were inside the center at the time, but both the suspect and the victim were 18 years old.