March 10, 2010

Westbrook may ease curfew

ELBERT AULL

— By

Staff Writer

WESTBROOK — Local children may get a small curfew break just in time for summer vacation.

The City Council on Monday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would extend the city's 9 p.m. curfew for underage residents by 90 minutes.

Police said the curfew helps them thwart vandals and thieves and should not be changed. Councilors called the 9 p.m. curfew ''too restrictive,'' saying it punishes good children for the behavior of their delinquent peers.

''I just think that's too restrictive,'' City Councilor Lyle Cramer said of the 9 p.m. curfew. ''We're punishing the majority of nice kids simply because we can't get a handle on the minority.''

The city curfew currently prohibits residents under 18 years old from loitering and gathering in groups of three or more on public property from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The proposal would extend the start time of the curfew to 10:30 p.m.

The council voted 5-1, with member Drew Gattine absent, in favor of the change. The council will take a second and final vote later this month.

City Councilor Michael Foley voted against the change. Foley, whose automobile was recently burglarized, said the earlier curfew gives police an excuse to stop underage pedestrians out at night -- possibly stopping car thieves before they strike.

''I just think that they really need this tool,'' he said.

The council passed the current ordinance in December.

Police Chief William Baker said his department had issued one written warning for a curfew violation over the past six months.

Baker said police officers use the curfew as a ''monitoring tool,'' a reason to stop children in parking lots and other public areas to make sure they aren't up to no good. He urged the council to leave the curfew unchanged.

''I think the council got the (curfew) right the first time,'' he said.

City Councilor John O'Hara said the council could return to the earlier starting time if things get out of hand this summer.

Under the current ordinance, curfew violators could earn a trip to the public safety building -- where their parents pick them up -- and a written warning from police. Repeat offenders face fines of $25 to $100; their parents face fines of at least $100.

The rules apply to anyone under 18 who is not accompanied by a parent, out because of work or returning from a school, religious or community event. Police are allowed to make exceptions for those out in public due to a ''reasonable necessity,'' according to the ordinance.

Councilors are not considering changing the fines or exceptions to the rule.

Also Monday, the council gave final approval to a nearly $56 million city budget that will raise property taxes by 3 percent. The tax rate will increase from $15.43 to $15.90 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Staff Writer Elbert Aull can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

eaull@pressherald.com

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