Maintaining Public Safety Difficult In Face Of Financial Cuts Says NLC
Reduction in police forces due to budget cuts and the loss of federally funded programs such as COPS and LLEBG are making public safety more difficult for cities to maintain, according to a recent National League of Cities (NLC) annual Curfew Survey.
While cities are continuing to provide the best public safety for their citizens, one in four reported that homeland security costs are cutting into budgets that should be spent on maintaining day-to-day public safety needs.
The survey showed that cities are continuing to implement and enforce youth curfews as a tool to help deter crime and violence among youth. The Insta-Poll of 701 cities also shows that city officials feel that curfews are a useful and effective strategy to help them curb gang violence in their cities. The survey was conducted in late 2003 as a follow up to surveys done in 1999 and 2001.
Seventy percent of the respondents reported that public safety would be more difficult to maintain as a result of budget cuts and reduced police forces.
One in three cities (28 percent) reported that the recent loss of COPS and LLEBG funding would also make enforcing curfew laws and other basic public safety needs more difficult to maintain.
One in four cities (24 percent), have had to shift money from their public safety budgets to cover homeland security costs. In addition, 13 percent of cities report that they have had to lay off police due to tighter fiscal conditions and budget cuts and one in three cities (33 percent) anticipate possible police layoffs in the near future.
Among cities with curfews, the overwhelming majority, (96 percent) view their laws as an effective way to combat youth violence and juvenile crime, make streets safer and fight truancy, and 93 percent say it is a “good use” of a police officers time. Respondents to the Insta-Poll also said that curfews serve as a tool in identifying gangs and gang activities, but do little to stop hard-core gang members. Most cities (93 percent) said they had no problems implementing their curfew, and 88 percent said there were no significant new costs for their police departments.
“Maintaining public safety is job one for local elected officials. City officials are looking for answers to ensure the safety of the citizens in their communities,” said NLC President Charles Lyons, selectman of Arlington, Mass. “The findings of this Insta-Poll show that cities are being asked to do more with less in order to maintain the safety of their citizens. We need to partner with the federal government to solve the growing problem of funding public safety.”
Over the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, city officials have turned to curfews as a way to solve rising youth crime statistics. The NLC Insta-poll shows that 66 percent of those cities that have curfews have enacted them in the past 20 years with 44 percent of those within the last 10 years making curfews a trend for the later part of the 20th century. Daytime curfews are also a recent trend with 90 percent of respondents reporting that their daytime curfews were established in the last 10 years.
In most cities with nighttime curfews, children under the age of 18 are expected to be off the streets by 11p.m. during the week. The curfews are usually extended one hour to midnight on the weekends. Of the cities with nighttime curfews, most (49 percent) gave 11 p.m. as the weekday hour that kids needed to be off public streets, with 12 a.m. being the hour on weekends.
In contrast to nighttime curfews, a trend to establish day curfews began in the 1990’s. Of the cities reporting that they had a daytime curfew, 90 percent said they established them in the last ten years, with 23 percent of those having been established within the last three years.
Cities that have daytime curfews often use the same hours as school hours, with 43 percent of respondents citing “school hours” as the hours that day curfews were enforced. Fourteen percent reported 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. as their hours of enforcement.
When it comes to being effective in fighting juvenile crime, 96 percent feel that a curfew can help police with juvenile crime, burglary, vandalism and gang activity, and 90 percent feel it helps to cut down on juvenile violence. Several respondents reported that curfews can be used to stop gangs from growing and spreading in their infancy, but does little to turn hardened gang members around. Some felt that the best use of curfews is when gangs first surface, while they have less bite in areas that have established gangs and gang-related crime.
Curfews have also generated controversy and opposition in some communities. Four percent responding to the NLC Insta-Poll said they did not believe curfews were an effective way to fight juvenile crime. Opponents cited a lack of enforcement, more important police priorities, and a belief that curfews “punish good kids and do nothing to deter the bad kids.”
Many cities have avoided constitutional challenges by looking to their peers when drafting their curfew laws. Cities are basing curfews on models from other cities that have had challenges and corrected their laws, or have successfully implemented curfews that have had no challenges.
The 2004 survey gathered information from Mayors and city officials of 701 cities. The survey group included 99 central cities, 355 suburban communities and 247 rural or non-metropolitan cities and towns. Tabulations for questions were based off the number of respondents that gave a response to each question and not on overall respondents.
The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments throughout the United States. With membership of 1,800 cities and towns, as well as 49 state municipal associations, NLC serves as a resource and advocate for 18,000 U.S. cities that serve 225 million people across the United States.