Teen clubs stir curfew debate

As the city considers whether to place limits on how long teen clubs can stay open, some local and state officials are questioning the effectiveness of teen curfews in general.

Augusta commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to force teen clubs to close at 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11:30 p.m. on weekends. Proponents say this will allow teens to meet their 11 p.m. weekday and midnight weekend curfews.

Venus Cain, a Richmond County school board member, said lack of enforcement has kept the curfew from being effective. Teen clubs only added to the problem, she said.

"The teen clubs were an accident waiting to happen," Mrs. Cain said. "We used to go out to McDonald's for a hamburger after a football game. Those days are gone."

The ordinance was enacted in 1997, but night patrol deputies still issue warnings or citations to about 10 teenagers a week, said Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength.

He believes that forcing Augusta's four teen clubs to shut down earlier would eliminate a gray area about whether having adults at the club constitutes adult supervision, which is required for teens out past the curfew, Sheriff Strength said.

"This would add more teeth to the curfew," he said.

But teens still have to be willing to adhere to the ordinance, he said.

Between December 2006 and February, more than 40 reports were made at one teen hot spot, Club Platinum, including a murder and aggravated assaults, said Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Tony Hyatt. The club is typically open only one day a week, Investigator Hyatt said.

Crime has not been an issue at other teen clubs, but closing all clubs earlier will aid in keeping teens safe, he said.

"About 95 percent of the crimes happened after midnight," Investigator Hyatt said. "I don't see any need for them to be out after midnight."

Most Georgia cities and counties, including Columbia County, don't have teen curfews because of enforcement difficulties, said Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Amy Henderson.

The main obstacle with teen curfews is enforcing them, said Terry Norris, the executive vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association. Many sheriffs' offices don't have the resources to keep teens off the streets after curfew, he said.

"Law enforcement shouldn't really have to baby-sit the children who are out past midnight," Mr. Norris said. "Curfews can be effective, but they're only going to be effective to those who want to obey the law."

Ensuring teens obey the curfew will take an effort from the community as a whole, Mrs. Cain said.

"I know they want to have fun, but there's a time and place for everything, but we have to let them know we're doing it to keep them safe," she said.

"If law enforcement really enforces it and the parents work with them, it can really be effective."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.