Friends joke around outside Constitution High School in Center City Credit: Nathan Morris / Billy Penn

City Council is about to make permanent the city’s earlier curfew for minors, in an effort to stem violence involving Philadelphians younger than 18.

Some Philly teens find that outcome unlikely.

The city’s existing curfew law dates back to the 1950s, with amendments enacted in the 70s, 90s, and 2010s. The change will move the curfew for 16 and 17-year-olds from midnight to 10 p.m. It’s a shift first made in July, on a temporary basis.

“I had heard about the summer curfew in June,” Rennie Lee, a junior at Masterman High School, told Billy Penn. “But I had no idea that they were thinking about making it permanent.”

The new policy mandates that the police department and the Department of Human Services share quarterly reports with City Council on the policy’s enforcement.

Many young Philadelphians said they weren’t familiar with enforcement actually happening.

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Josh Sor, a West Philly native and senior at Roman Catholic High School, was an outlier in that he did know of the previous midnight curfew, but said he “just never thought it was strictly enforced.”

Teens are not necessarily hearing about it in school, said Kerla Milius, a junior at Northeast High. “At least in my school, they don’t really tell us that there’s a curfew or if there’s big things that happen,” she said, explaining she found out about it through her involvement as the secretary of the Philly Black Student Alliance.

“A lot of students are out, probably, past 10,” she said, “but they don’t really get in trouble for it because a lot of them don’t encounter the police.”

“We are utilizing just another tool in our tool box to seek to help our young people,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, at an October committee hearing on the curfew legislation.

Enforcement has ebbed and flowed based on how important the policy was deemed by elected officials, history shows. There was a brief crackdown in 2011, for instance. But it’s been enforced with much more frequency lately. Violations issued by PPD rose precipitously between last summer and this one, from 558 to 1146.

PPD officers are supposed to take youth picked up after curfew either to a police station or to a community evening resource center, which began opening last year. Run by local organizations, they’re set up specifically to provide a safe space for minors between the hours of 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. (Anyone 13 and under is subject to a 9:30 p.m. curfew, and the curfews are lifted at 6 a.m.)

Amy Liao, a junior at Central High School, said she doesn’t usually find herself out and about after curfew — except for school band and orchestra concerts. She’s not sure the policy will ease violence involving minors.

“Kids could be out before 10 p.m. and also do violence,” Liao said, referencing the spate of youth-involved shootings that have happened long before curfew hours. Liao sees the resource centers as a mild silver lining: “It’s better than getting arrested, but I’m not sure if this is the solution.”

Students arrive to start school at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science in North Philly Credit: Brian Mengini for Billy Penn

In June, Deputy Police Commissioner Joel Dales called the curfews “effective”, citing the increased enforcement. People under 18 make up about a tenth of the city’s more than 2,140 shooting victims this year — 209, as of this writing. On this day last year, that number was 197.

Similar safety-oriented curfews for minors in other cities have been deemed ineffective, in large part because they’re not a considerable deterrent for people ready to commit much more serious violations.

After Washington D.C. recently attempted to implement a similar policy, the city saw more gunfire after the new curfew was set.

Northeast High student Milius recalled a point in the summer where confusion reigned when trying to plan a BSA event. “We were supposed to have a skate night at the skate parks,” she said. “When we were talking about it, figuring out a date, a lot of the students did not know that we had a curfew.”

The event that the student group had in mind likely would have been allowed to run past the curfew, as long as an adult was present.

Philly’s policy exempts attendance at “official school, religious, or other recreational” activities, as long as adults are present to declare responsibility for a given minor. Other exceptions include:

  • Being with a parent, guardian or custodian
  • Going to or from a job
  • Being in a vehicle involved in interstate travel
  • Dealing with an emergency
  • On the sidewalk outside one’s home, if the neighbor has not complained to the police
  • Exercising First Amendment rights (i.e. protesting/rallying)
  • If the minor in question is homeless, they face no penalty

One of the exceptions to the curfew allows minors running an errand on behalf of a parent or guardian. Eastwick resident Tateyanna Nunes, a junior at Girls’ High, said she’s unsure how that would actually play out.

Preconceived narratives can direct how someone treats you, she observed. “Most of the time people just make up their own stories and decide that that’s what you are, before you’re able to get your story out,” she said. “If we do get stopped one night, I don’t think that our stories would be heard.”

She said she’s seen other policies unevenly enforced. “I see what they’re trying to do with the exceptions, but I just feel like it’s very unlikely for the exceptions to be held to a fair standard,” Nunes said. “I feel like that’s why [the curfew] won’t be able to change things.”

Lee, from Northeast Philly, suggested a citywide curfew might be less useful than something more targeted.

“I feel like if there were more resources relegated to those affected areas, then maybe you wouldn’t see such an increase of — it’s not even just teenagers anymore, it’s more like tweens — starting to get into these violent crimes.”

Sor, months from graduating from Philly’s K-12 system, thinks youth need to be more involved in the political process, and that officials should seek more feedback from young Philadelphians across the city.

“We need help to counsel and aid students to not only help us mentally through this growing problem, but really help us solve this problem,” Sor said. “I think where the solution resides is with the students.”

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...