Leggett: Curfew 'Proactive' But Not 'Panacea'

County Executive cites long-standing challenges with crime and unemployment as motive behind teen curfew.

Interview by Sebastian Montes

Two weeks ago, Montgomery Count Executive Isiah Leggett proposed legislation that would create a curfew barring unsupervised minors from public areas after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. The controversial measure has its public hearing at 1:30 p.m. today at the County Council building, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Watch the hearing here.

Last week, Leggett sat down with Patch to discuss the curfew. Here are excerpts:

If I was someone under the age of 18, I’d be writing myself saying ‘Don’t do this.’ What kid wants a curfew? That’s a part of life. So I’m not surprised that you get that kind of reaction, and also from some people in parts of the county and some people who have very good kids who think, 'You know, my kid is fine. I don’t thik that they need a curfew and I trust them and they know how to stay out of trouble.' Clearly, that’s one side of it. But that doesn’t mean, as County Executive in a different relatinship and a different role, we shouldn’t do it. There were a lot of things as young person I never wanted to do, but authorities, parents and others said, ‘Hey, no, this is what we need to do.’


Here’s what you see happening. One, you have curfews in the District [of Columbia] and Prince George’s County. What we found was that large numbers of young peple are coming to Montgomery County, especially in the east county and down county, because it’s the area of least resistance. You don’t have the same parameters that you have in other places. So we’ve become the destination spot, and I think that presents a challenge. Secondly, there are challenges related with anti-social behavior, crime, the fear of crime and how people perceive Montgomery County that need to be addressed. Although, compared to other jurisdictions in the area, our crime rate is probably smaller. I want to keep it there. I don’t believe in the motto that you wait until you have a huge array of catastrophes and challenges and say, ‘OK, let’s go and take some various extreme measures to address that.’ You should be proactive so that you don’t get to that point. Because you see all the ingredients now that can lead you there; large numbers of young people; we are the donut in the hole in terms of curfew; we see challenges with youth crime; and there are limitations in our ability to do other things.


First of all, I’ll say that the curfew is not in and of itself a panacea. It’s not a panacea for the kinds of things we are trying to address related to public safety. We simply cannot get there with that one tool alone. But we have had positive youth initiatives, sports academies, we've reached out to the school system, we worked with the recreation department. We’ve done all those things. The combination of the curfew with the mentoring programs, with trying to find kids jobs, with providing the sports academies and positive things for kids to do, all help to address this concern. But there are limitations to some of those things. We wanted to significantly increase the amounts of resources for positive youth initiatives and sports academies. But we had budget challenges. The economy is such today that the kinds of jobs that young people would get are at a minimum. They don’t exist in some places. I’ve gone to some of the fast-food restaurants and I’ve been surprised the number of non-young people working there. And we have the large numbers of young people who are unsupervised.


This curfew will not adversely affect young people who are engaged in normal kinds of acticvities. If you are with a parent or adult, it doesn’t affect you. If you are working, if you are in a surpervised program or whatever it may be, this doesn’t affect you. And then on top of that, in order to be cited for a violation, you must first disregard a police request to go back home or go where you are going. It’s only after you are in this narrow range of unsupervised, not working, just out on your own kind of stuff and then you violate the police request for you to go home.


Certainly, I’m persuaded by the concerns that the officers have. But I’m also persuaded by my recognition of this county and how I see the county evolving. Some people wanted us to wait. Now, you could wait and allow the situation to deteriorate. Looking at it from my perspective, I wanted to err on the side of more caution and to make sure that we enhance public safety and do what we need to do now. Because if we continue down this road, I think more and more young people will ultimately get in trouble. Once those things happen, you’ve got a longer trek to undo that. Because the perception, the number of people adversely affected, the number of people in trouble, it gets a reputation of its own.


There may be some concerns about it. I’m trying to listen to what those concerns are. We may have to tweak it here or there. One of the questions that has come is, 'Well shouldn’t it only be in certain areas of the county?' I have a problem with that, in terms of what the county presents. I think the problems are fairly widespread once you look at places like east county, portions of Langley park, Takoma Park, places around Silver Spring, Wheaton, Aspen Hill, Glenmont. You run through all of those areas and places like Lakeforest and Germantown, outer reaches of Gaithersburg, you’ve covered a pretty broad swath of the county.

Now, the challenge, of course, is in the municipalities, where about 30 percent of the people live. My belief is that once you establish that it works well in other parts, I think that in time they will adopt similar measures. Because what happens with them is the same thing that happened with the District of Columbia and Prince George's County. They came to Montgomery County, we reacted. Montgomery County reacted, they will go to Gaithersburg, and Gaithersburg will say, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to be the only place in the county where kids have this outlet.’ So this has a domino effect.


I looked at this some years ago. Either to my credit or discredit, I don’t shoot from the hip, I don’t just throw stuff on the wall and see whether or not it sticks. There’s been very careful deliberation. When I implemented the decision, it may have been quick, but it’s not as though I have not thought about it and had discussions about it and the effectiveness of it.


We do see that crime, although it is down, it is not at the level I would want. And it’s clear now that it has the potential to significantly increase. We are looking at high levels of unemployment for a considerable period of time. I don’t think we thought that, say, a year or so ago, that unemployment would stay at 9 percent. That has a ripple effect on young people down the line.


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