San Benito mulls revising curfew ordinance

Gonzales pushes for law amid officials’ questions

SAN BENITO — Anyone for a curfew?

At City Hall, officials aren’t pushing to keep teenagers off the streets late at night.

But City Commissioner Tony Gonzales wants the city’s curfew law back into effect.

So officials are reviewing the curfew ordinance, expected to go to a vote Sept. 3.

Across the Rio Grande Valley and around the country, many cities are struggling with the same questions surrounding curfews.

In March, Harlingen city commissioners unanimously voted to put the city’s curfew law back into effect after Police Chief Michael Kester’s statistics showed the ordinance helped cut down on juvenile arrests from 2015 to 2018.

Like Kester, many lawmen argue the laws work to keep teenagers off the street and out of trouble.

But others question whether the laws constitute “selective enforcement.”

In Austin, city commissioners struck down their curfew law in 2017.

“We looked at the evidence and decided it was time to discard the curfew law; it wasn’t making an impact on juvenile victimization,” Troy Gay, Austin’s assistant police chief, told The Marshall Project.

Last week in San Benito, interim Police Chief Fred Bell wasn’t pushing commissioners to revive the law that expired about two years ago.

The city’s 1996 curfew law bars juveniles from the street or public areas from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekends.

The law also requires parents to supervisor their children during that time.

Teenage violators face juvenile court prosecution and fines of up to $500.

Meanwhile, parents face as much as $500 in fines.

“My personal opinion — I don’t think this is one that I’m coming before you and saying, ‘Please pass this because without it police officers can’t do their job,’” Bell told commissioners in an August 20 meeting. “No sir.”

In 2017, the city’s curfew law, enacted in 1996, expired.

“Every three years we need to bring it back and have you all reconsider,” Bell told commissioners.

After working in law enforcement for much of his career, Bell believes there are options to curfews.

“Curfew ordinances are rarely used as officers have other tools they can utilize in order to conduct inquires or investigations,” Bell told commissioners. “It’s rarely, rarely utilized. My expectations as interim chief — and I would expect anyone who holds the office — you don’t rely strictly on that. Is it a tool? Yes. But is it the only tool? No.”

Meanwhile, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said curfews can be “problematic.”

“The point is, there are folks that don’t have cars. They’re kids. They walk — work. You’re stopping them even if they walk up to McDonalds after 10 o’clock and they’re walking home,” he told commissioners.

“It’s problematic,” De La Rosa said. “If we do pick up anybody under 17, they’re still juveniles. It takes us off the street unless we issue a citation. Usually, if we’re going to do something, let’s take them back home and let mom and dad deal with them.”

However, Gonzales, a former police officer, said curfews help police keep teenagers out of trouble.

“I drive around and I see young kids on the street after 10,” Gonzales said yesterday. “Maybe this curfew will get them back in their house.”