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Proposed youth curfew meets broad opposition in Malden

Teens and others call it unnecessary

By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / December 7, 2009

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MALDEN - Atomic bowling makes for a big night out for teens Saturdays at Town Line Ten Pin, but a proposed juvenile curfew could mean many youths would have to leave before the techno music, laser lights, and big balls really get rolling.

“The kids don’t even start coming here until 9 p.m.,’’ said Bernie Murphy, weekend manager at the bowling alley, which also has an arcade. “This could mean we had to change our hours of operation.’’

Less than three months after the state Supreme Judicial Court put limits on a juvenile curfew in Lowell, Malden is considering a curfew that would make it illegal for youths aged 17 and under to be out in public late at night or during school hours, unless accompanied by an adult.

The curfew would run from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays and midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends and holidays. During school hours, minors would not be allowed in public, unless accompanied by an adult. Every night, teens would have to vacate restaurants, social clubs, and other establishments, such as Town Line Ten Pin, by 10:30.

But unlike Lowell, where a provision to arrest youths or place them in state custody was deemed unlawful in late September, Malden is not proposing criminal penalties. Instead, youths, parents, or guardians would face a $50 fine for a violation.

The curfew was first proposed in the fall, after a spate of late-night violence, including a case in which a Malden police officer shot and killed a suspect during a routine traffic stop, prompting councilors to consider the ordinance to protect children.

But the proposal has drawn opposition from the city’s police chief, high school principal, and not a few teenagers.

“Everyone is upset about it,’’ said Xavier Leo, 17, a senior at Malden High who recently wrote about the curfew proposal for his school newspaper, The Blue and Gold.

“Some sports have night games and kids afterward go out to eat, and then walk home,’’ he said. “Something like this cuts off your social life.’’

Businesses would have to post notice of the curfew hours, a requirement that irked one local restaurant owner.

“Why should I post that when they want to take food off my table?’’ asked George Panopoulos, owner of Steve’s Roast Beef, a fast-food spot popular with youths from nearby Malden High School and Salemwood School.

His restaurant, where the cheeseburger special costs just $5.05, draws many students, particularly after school events.

“I get a lot of them in here, especially on the weekends,’’ said Panopoulos, a 15-year business owner. “Kids are very important to my business.’’

But city councilors maintain that they are just trying to look out for those youngsters.

“We’re trying to help them to stay safe, to keep them from getting into mischief,’’ said Ward Six Councilor Neil Kinnon, chairman of the ordinance committee.

The curfew proposal allows exceptions for youths who are working or attending school, civic, or religious events.

Still, one councilor worries the curfew could trample on minors’ rights.

“It oversteps the bounds of personal freedom,’’ Ward Three Councilor Paul DiPietro said recently.

Other officials, including the police chief and high school principal, don’t think the behavior of Malden’s juveniles warrants a curfew.

“It might look good on paper,’’ said Dana Brown, principal of Malden High School. “But I think they’re targeting the wrong population. I don’t think 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old kids are wreaking havoc on Malden.’’

Of 984 people arrested in Malden during the first nine months of this year, 55 were juveniles. Of that number, only 11 were arrested after 9 p.m., said Malden Police Chief Kenneth Coye.

“The numbers are not leading me to believe that a curfew would do anything to reduce crime,’’ Coye said recently.

Coye said most nighttime crime, such as vandalism or car break-ins, is committed by adults between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Malden enacted a 9 p.m. curfew ordinance in 1969, but it was taken off the books in 1991 over concerns it might not meet legal muster, City Clerk Karen Anderson said.

A juvenile curfew in Lowell, on the books since 1994, came under scrutiny this year, after two people arrested for allegedly violating the city’s 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew appealed to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The court struck down the provision of the ordinance that allowed for a minor to be arrested or turned over to the state Department of Youth Services for violating the curfew, but it allowed a $50 fine per violation to remain intact.

The Malden council voted last week to have the proposed ordinance reviewed by its public safety committee.

A public hearing would also have to be held before the full council would vote, officials said.

Officials of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts say they hope the Lowell ruling will create some leeway for Malden’s young people.

“The case was an important victory,’’ said Christopher Ott, communications director for the group.

Deanna Mann, 16, who was playing atomic bowling Saturday night at Town Line Ten Pin with a group of friends, also hopes the plan is scrubbed.

“It’s not like we’re doing anything wrong,’’ she said. “We’re bowling.’’

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.