For the first time in years, the Dayton Police Department on Friday will conduct a juvenile curfew sweep that officials say is in response to complaints about young people fighting, causing property damage and engaging in disruptive behaviors during late-night hours.
So far this year, the Dayton Police Department made juvenile arrests related to 774 crimes, which is three times as many juvenile crime cases as during the same period in 2021, department data show.
In a recent incident, multiple fights broke out among a large group of juveniles who were at RiverScape MetroPark, according to MetroPark police records.
“We’ve had some complaints about large groups of juveniles in some of our parks fighting,” said Dayton police Lt. John Riegel, who is the commander of the central patrol operations district. “We’ve seen an increase in graffiti activity and also recently an increase in car thefts and car break-ins.”
City code prohibits anyone under the age of 18 who is not accompanied by a parent or guardian from being in public spaces between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., with a few exceptions, officials said.
Parents and guardians are not allowed to let minors be in public places during those hours, and failure to comply with the code is a minor misdemeanor offense. Police officials say the code is not regularly enforced, except mainly during curfew sweeps, the most recent of which took place years ago.
But critics of curfews locally and across the country say research suggests they do not reduce crime or crime victimization and can damage relations between police and young people.
“In my opinion, communities may do more for our children if we focus our money and energy on solid after-school programs and/or community programs, rather than spending the resources on a cycle of walking a child through the doors of a detention center,” said Nikole Xarhoulacos, the manager of the children and family law division with the Montgomery County Public Defender’s office.
Between 11 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Saturday, Dayton police officers will be on the lookout for juveniles who are breaking the curfew law, and violators will be detained and will have to be picked up by a parent or guardian or taken home.
Juveniles will be transported to the Dayton Police Department’s Central Business District headquarters at 248 Salem Ave., where they will be watched by adult volunteers until an adult guardian is located, Riegel said.
If a parent or guardian cannot be reached or cannot pick up the juveniles, the minors will be taken to the Montgomery County juvenile intervention center until one is available, officials said.
Police want to educate young people and parents about the law and connect them with resources, police said, and the main objective is to reduce juvenile-related criminal activities.
Dayton police Chief Kamran Afzal said the sweep isn’t meant to be punitive and instead seeks to facilitate a conversation with parents and try to get them more involved.
“Young people need guidance, and guidance comes from home,” he said.
Five additional officers will work Friday night to assist with the sweep, Riegel said, and police will mainly focus on the downtown area, though officers will look for violations elsewhere in the city, particularly in parks and other areas where problems have arisen.
“If we get complaints from residents, we’ll head that way,” he said.
Fights broke out at RiverScape MetroPark in downtown Dayton in late April and early May, including an incident where a park officer found a gun after struggling with a juvenile, according to park incident reports.
After this weekend, the police department likely will try to conduct curfew sweeps on a semi-regular basis, Riegel said.
In the past, sweeps also were prompted by citizen complaints, and the last one led to the detention and citation of roughly 10 or so young people, Riegel said.
He said it’s important to note that Dayton’s curfew rules do not apply to juveniles who are outside in their own yards.
Critics of juvenile curfews say they outlaw behavior that is not dangerous to society — i.e., teens and youths being out at night — and curfew enforcement can be discriminatory, unfairly impacting people of color.
Xarhoulacos, with the public defender’s office, also pointed to research by the U.S. Department of Justice that shows most violent offenses committed by juveniles peak after school on school days and between 6 to 9 p.m. on non-school days.
This broad discretion could lead to illegal stops and escalated tensions with police, especially based on where they may conduct these sweeps, she said.
The Montgomery County Juvenile Court this weekend will have extra staff available in case a large number of juveniles are picked up by police and need to be held until a parent or guardian can retrieve them, said Jim Cole, assistant administrator of juvenile court.
But Cole said sweeps usually do not net many young curfew-breakers, adding, “I doubt that (the last one) even got into double digits — it was probably less than 10.”
Cole said it’s possible some juveniles will face more serious criminal charges if police discover they possess drugs, weapons or other contraband.
Curfew violations are not all that common in juvenile court, Cole said, but the court in these cases typically does an evaluation to try to determine why youths are out at late hours and if there some unaddressed issues, like with parental control.
Dayton police have seen a large increase in juvenile arrests this year — which includes summons — but incidents dropped sharply during the COVID pandemic.
Still, they have been higher this year, compared to 2019 and 2020.