Minorities have received more than half the citations and warnings for juvenile curfew violations in Iowa City since the law was first enforced in March.
Twenty-two of the 40 contacts made by police officers from March through November were with minorities, according to statistics provided by the Iowa City Police Department. Sixteen were black, and six were classified as white-Hispanics. The rest were white.
Iowa City is more than 85 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, although the juvenile population is more diverse, with minority students making up 32 percent of the Iowa City school district’s enrollment.
The racial disparity seen in the curfew violations was not a surprise to Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine, who warned more than a year ago, when the City Council was debating the curfew, that it may happen. He said it wouldn’t be because officers were prejudiced but rather the result of the calls to which they responded.
He reiterated that earlier this month.
“There’s nothing that says the number of juveniles who were out after dark have to be reflective of the population,” he said.
The curfew has won the backing of a former critic who works primarily with black kids and last year worried the curfew was aimed at them.
Henri Harper said more important than the statistics is the positive relationship between kids and the police that he believes the curfew has helped build through better communication.
“I think people realize that they didn’t just want the black kids off the street; they wanted kids off the street,” said Harper, director of FasTrac, an academic and cultural support program for young people.
Curfew starts at midnight for 16- and 17-year-olds, 11 p.m. for 14- and 15-year-olds, and 10 p.m. for those 13 and younger. There are exceptions for things like work, school activities and being accompanied by a responsible adult.
The City Council approved the curfew in December 2009 with a 4-3 vote after a months-long debate. Police officers did not start issuing citations until March.
A curfew proposal arose after a few large fights, among other problems, in southeast Iowa City earlier in 2009. Race was part of the debate, and the council wrote into the law a requirement that demographic and other data be reviewed annually, so it’d be known if certain groups of people or areas of town were overrepresented.
Council member Mike Wright, who proposed the annual report and voted for the curfew, said the council will need to discuss why 55 percent of the curfew citations and warnings have been issued to minorities.
“That’s a little bit troubling because, obviously, 55 percent of our population is not minority,” he said. “I don’t know what that means.”
Council member Ross Wilburn, who voted against the curfew, said the statistics themselves do not tell the full story.
“Just because it’s disproportionate in itself shouldn’t really lead you to any grand conclusions,” he said. “You have to look at what the factors are that led to that.”
A review will be included in the Police Department’s annual report to be released early next year, said Hargadine.
There were 28 curfew citations and 12 warnings from March through November. Of those, blacks received 14 citations and two warnings, Hispanics two citations and four warnings, and whites 12 citations and six warnings.
Hargadine said that a case-by-case look would be needed for fuller answers and that may help explain some of the racial disparity.
For example, the first curfew citation was given to a 16-year-old black male who was found in a downtown bar in March. He also was charged with being in a bar underage and possessing tobacco.
Six other citations against black people were from the same incident in June, when three kids also were charged with gang recruitment and three adults were cited under the curfew provision that holds parents and guardians responsible for their kids.
When the curfew was first discussed, Hargadine said violations would be a low priority for his officers, and many of the citations would result from calls for other offenses.
Of the 40 citations and warnings, 20 included additional charges. Minorities had a greater percentage of additional charges than whites — 59 percent to 39 percent — which Hargadine said may be part of the reason more minorities were cited and warned for curfew.
Hargadine said there’s no easy answer for why minorities have made up more of the curfew violations.
It’s not just curfew, though. In 2009, blacks accounted for 56 percent of the juvenile arrests in Iowa City, according to police statistics. A committee made up of law enforcement personnel and people who work with kids has been meeting to discuss the issue.
After the problems in 2009, southeast Iowa City was quieter this year. Credit has gone to more neighborhood involvement by residents, service programs and police efforts.
Hargadine said the curfew also has been a helpful tool, and FasTrac’s Harper said the way officers have communicated with kids on the curfew has turned around what had been an adversarial relationship for some.
How many kids actually pay attention to curfew is more questionable, however, even among those who stay out of trouble.
“They know there’s a curfew; they just don’t follow it,” said Jene Adams, a 16-year-old City High School student.
Another City High student, Joseph Fefee, 17, suggested that, for kids, there’s a higher power than the police.“Usually the only time someone follows the curfew is if their parents give the curfew,” he said.