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Home  |  News  |  Five Points curfew in effect

Five Points curfew in effect
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

COLUMBIA, SC - Columbia police said they were poised to deal with the first night of a Five Points curfew Tuesday, which happened to be the same night crowds readied for USC to win its second national title in baseball.

Tuesday, a unanimous City Council quickly enacted an emergency 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew that bans anyone 16 or younger from being in the popular bar and entertainment district. The ban will last through the summer.

The ban comes a week after an attack in Five Points that drew national attention. Eight teens were charged in the attack on an 18-year-old who was pummeled as he was running home just after midnight to meet a strict family curfew.

Signs posting an emergency curfew for teens, 16 and younger were put up in Five Points Tuesday.

Language in the law justifies the curfew by citing that beating and other recent youth crimes in Five Points, including the shooting of a pedestrian and several cases in which teens were carrying guns.

The curfew requires underage youths to be accompanied by a parent or guardian; otherwise police will question them, detain violators and either turn them over to their parents or ask social services workers to find them a place to stay.

Teens 16 or younger also cannot legally drive or be a passenger in a car, even if it is parked, during the curfew.

The new law has a handful of exemptions, such as teens who have jobs inside the area or can produce a written statement from their parents that they are running an errand that takes them through Five Points.

In worst-case situations, a youth could be taken into protective custody, placed temporarily into foster care or be hauled into Family Court to be declared incorrigible, which puts them under a judge’s oversight.

Their parents also could face up to a $1,100 ticket or 30 days in jail. That extreme measure would be for aggravated cases such as parents who don’t want the youth back in the house or are not properly supervising youths who routinely are out late at night, City Council members said.

“We can’t lose sight that there is a bigger problem we’re not addressing,” Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said, referring to a lack of parental controls.

Councilman Daniel Rickenmann worries the curfew might send parents the wrong message about supervising their children. “We’re giving people an excuse to say, ‘Well, law enforcement will enforce it,’ ” Rickenmann said.

The restrictions are to expire in 60 days unless council renews the curfew permanently or extends it citywide.

The Five Points curfew covers about a 36-block area near the university, including Maxcy Gregg and Martin Luther King parks. The broad parameters reach to:

• Gervais Street to the north

• Oak and Heidt streets and MLK park to the east

• Blossom Street to the south

• Gregg Street to the west.

The city began posting signs Tuesday that designate the curfew zone and notify people of the new law.

An ironic outcome of the new law occurred on its first day. The city had to close its “Prime Time in the Park” program Friday at MLK park an hour early so that children could be home before the curfew. The program was created to give city youth safe and wholesome places to go after school and during the summer.

How the curfew works

Police Chief Randy Scott said he has instructed officers to allow a grace period while the city adjusts to the curfew. But a youth who refuses to leave or follow officers’ instructions might be taken into custody as a civil, not criminal, action.

Scott said he already planned to have 15 to 20 officers in Five Points on Tuesday night in preparation for Gamecock fans, who last year spilled into the streets when USC won its first national championship in a major sport.

Five Points has attracted rowdy teenagers, some of whom have brought trouble that made news. Besides a 19-year-old adult, the other teens charged in the June 20 beating of Carter Strange include a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old and four 16-year-olds. Their names have not been released because they are juveniles.

The racial undertones in the case – the victim is white and the accused are African-American – have fueled some of the public’s cry for a curfew.

Strange, who was released recently from the hospital, and his parents attended a Five Points news conference Tuesday to announce the curfew. His mother, Vicki Strange, said she supports the curfew enthusiastically and is glad it cracks on parents.

“Parents need to be held accountable …,” she said. “Either send their (violent) children to DSS or to jail.” The state’s Department of Social Services deals with troubled families.

Council had dropped the curfew debate because of warnings that police statistics do not substantiate a citywide youth crime problem and that a curfew might not survive a legal challenge.

The intensified police presence in Five Points Tuesday night marked the beginning of a new thrust by the city to monitor its hospitality districts more closely.

City manager Steve Gantt said plans are under way to create a team of about 15 police officers and city code enforcers who would keep tabs on Five Points, the Vista and businesses near Columbiana Centre mall. They would check for underage drinking, smoking ban violations, overcrowding and other laws.

Plans are to use about $500,000 in hospitality tax income for 10 police officers who would work exclusively in the new unit, Gantt said. The rest of the team has not been determined.

Source: http://www.thestate.com/2011/06/29/1878355/five-points-curfew-in-effect.html

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