Why a Curfew in Oakland Is Still a Bad Idea

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Last year, the Express published two investigative reports showing that curfews not only don’t work, but implementing one in Oakland would be unnecessary. At the time, then-Police Chief Anthony Batts, along with city councilmen Ignacio De La Fuente and Larry Reid, was pushing for a youth curfew as a way to deal with Oakland's soaring crime rate. Now, current Police Chief Howard Jordan has reportedly renewed the call for a citywide curfew, and the idea is still being backed by De La Fuente and others, including Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson and Tribune columnist Tammerlin Drummond. But the facts about curfews haven’t changed in the past eleven months: There is still no credible evidence that youth curfews lower violent crime, and there’s still no evidence that Oakland’s teens are responsible for the city’s continued high crime rate.

Since we wrote those reports last year, one UC Berkeley study was published — and was widely circulated by curfew backers — that suggested that youth curfews might lead to modest reductions in youth crime. But the study contained several flaws.

Conducted by researcher Patrick Kline, who is an economist, and not a criminal justice expert, the study did not compare the youth crime rates of cities with curfews against those that do not have curfews. As a result, there is no way to tell whether youth crime rates declined because of curfews or whether the declines were part of a larger trend.

In fact, FBI statistics show that youth crime has declined substantially throughout the nation over the past several decades.

And Kline's failure to take that fact into account renders his study useless. "He simply can't make any statements about curfews in that study," said Mike Males, a senior research fellow at the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice.

Moreover, a youth curfew in Oakland is unnecessary. Jordan reportedly believes that youth crime is on the rise in Oakland, but he has yet to provide statistics to prove his contention. By contrast, the most recent data available from the California Department of Justice shows that felony youth crime has dropped substantially in Oakland, plummeting 26.4 percent from 2001 through 2010.

In short, felony youth crime is way down in Oakland, and teens are not causing the city’s violent crime spike. It’s the adults who are responsible.

The state DOJ data shows that overall violent crime jumped 17.6 percent in Oakland from 2001 through 2010. In other words, overall crime has been going up in the city while youth crime is going down.

A youth curfew, meanwhile, also could result in more problems with racial profiling in the city. Oakland police already have a troubling track record for stopping people of color for no legitimate reason. And a curfew would give them another excuse for stopping young people on the street, not unlike New York's controversial stop-and-frisk law. "Stop and frisk is basically the same thing as a curfew," Males noted. And as The New York Times has reported, stop-and-frisk has resulted in a disproportionate number of arrests of blacks and Latinos. There's also evidence that NYPD is more likely to use physical force during stop-and-frisk arrests.

As such, a youth curfew in Oakland would require the police department and the city to redirect its already scarce resources to a program that not only could do more harm than good, but also would address a problem that doesn't exist. And the amount of wasted resources could be substantial. In a 2009 report to the city council, OPD reported that detaining a youth for violating curfew could take up to 60 minutes of a police officer’s time. And if the officer decided to arrest the teen, it could take several hours to process him or her and then take the youth to Juvenile Hall in San Leandro.

Jordan is reportedly suggesting that cops take the teens who violate curfew to a late-night youth center run by a nonprofit. But who’s going to pay for that? The cash-strapped city doesn’t have the money, and it doesn’t seem likely that Oakland is going to win some kind of grant for a curfew when the youth crime rate is going down.

So why are police chiefs, politicians, and pundits demanding a youth curfew in Oakland? For some, a curfew sounds like a tough-on-crime strategy, and thus it may help them feel that the city is finally doing something to combat crime. For others, however, it appears to be a case of ageism. Many adults, for whatever reasons, seem to want to blame kids for the growing crime problem in Oakland, when, in fact, it’s the adults who are causing it.

"It's really an anti-youth argument," Males said of curfews, "not an an anti-crime argument."

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