OAKLAND -- The latest attempt to establish a nighttime curfew for Oakland youth met the same fate as previous efforts: it was blasted by critics and tossed aside by council members.
After a boisterous, nearly two-hour hearing Tuesday during which several opponents used poetry and rap songs to assail the curfew plan and its sponsor, Councilman Noel Gallo, the City Council's four-member Public Safety Committee declined to send the proposal to the full council for a vote. Instead, the committee voted to hold hearings on how the city can help reduce truancy and support students.
Gallo, who heads the committee and served 20 years on the school board, accepted his colleagues' direction but did not hide his frustration with them. "I get this council, and I get this leadership," he said. "All of us make one excuse after another."
Curfews have long been a divisive issue in Oakland, a city with the state's highest violent crime rate and a police department that has struggled to win the trust of minority communities.
Advocates have said curfews would give police another tool to stop potential suspects and protect vulnerable minors, especially teens caught up in Oakland's sex trade. But opponents, including dozens of residents who addressed the council on Tuesday, counter that the city does not have enough police to enforce a curfew and fear that it would further strain the department's relations with black and Latino teens.
"We need things that can work long-term -- not just get (people) off the street for the night or in school for the day," said Xirix Bickham, a student at Oakland's Dewey Academy.
Victor Rios, a junior at Oakland's MetWest High School, feared police would be able to stop him merely for grabbing a late dinner at McDonald's. "So I'm going to get arrested for that?" he said. "I don't think that's fair."
No curfew supporters addressed the committee.
Gallo's proposal was similar to a curfew plan that also failed to win committee approval four years ago. With limited exemptions, it would have prohibited anyone under 18 from being out past 10 p.m. without an adult and sought funding to open late night social service centers for minors picked up after hours.
One major difference from the prior debates was that Oakland's interim police Chief Sean Whent, unlike his recent predecessors, opposed the curfew on grounds that it would be difficult to enforce and strain his already diminished force. "I think it would really impair our effectiveness and really impact our ability to do other stuff like violent crime prevention," he said after the debate.
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf cited opposition from Whent and David Kennedy, the architect of the city's anti-violence Operation Ceasefire program, in coming out against the curfew.
Councilman Dan Kalb said he wanted police to devote their attention to high priority 911 calls. "If they're stopping a bunch of 16-year-olds hanging out a little later than normal ... I don't think that's a good use of their time," he said.
Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney said she could be amenable to a short-term curfew tailored to help teens lured into prostitution but said the council needed to focus on solving truancy and boosting services for youth before turning to police.
"What we're doing here is really trying to elevate this (debate) to a level of importance that will fill these seats," she said, "and begin to have us engage in different ways and more constructive ways around caring for our children."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.