CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Police have recommended that City Council repeal the nearly decade-old juvenile curfew put into effect in three business di
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Police have recommended that City Council repeal the nearly decade-old juvenile curfew put into effect in three business districts during the “flash mob” era.
Although she steered clear of addressing any prior criticism for overwhelming racial disproportion, Police Chief Annette Mecklenburg cited dwindling enforcement figures in recent years, pointing out that the curfew zone violations have since been tacked on only with other accompanying offenses.
“Based on our findings, we felt that while maybe there was a time and a place for it, the police department does not feel the law is needed anymore,” Mecklenburg, who took over as chief in 2016, told council’s Public Safety and Health Committee May 5.
The curfew, running from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., with several exceptions for authorized activities and sanctioned escorts, took effect in the Coventry and Cedar-Lee commercial districts in the summer of 2011, followed by Severance Town Center that November.
Heights Library Director Nancy Levin opposed it from the start, saying that it would interfere with library operations, curtail visits by young people and allow the potential for racial profiling.
Levin was soon joined by Lake Erie Ink board member and former Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland official Robert Koonce, who earlier sought crime statistics on the curfew, which were presented to council earlier this month.
Since its enactment, 187 minors have been found to be in violation of the business district curfew, with Black youth comprising 93 percent of those to whom civil penalties were applied.
Records of gender and which business district were not kept, although Mecklenburg noted that 66 percent of the calls came on complaints through dispatchers, possibly from business owners, and 34 percent were initiated by officers noticing someone underage and stopping them.
Mecklenburg pointed out that 151 of those curfew violations occurred between 2011 and 2015, with only 36 violations from 2016 to 2020.
“At no time during the last five years did we proactively stop a juvenile in the business district for curfew and charge them solely for that,” Mecklenburg said.
It was a lesser included offense on a number of other charges, such as theft, vandalism to the Cedar-Lee parking garage, disturbance, fighting or robbery.
“The last time a minor was stopped and his parents received a civil penalty was 2015,” Mecklenburg said, adding that “we’ve had no problems with flash mobs in several years and no major problems with juveniles, either.
“Therefore, our recommendation is that council consider repealing the law.”
Public Safety and Health Committee Chairman Craig Cobb said merchants on Cedar-Lee are “very supportive of repealing this,” and asked City Manager Susanna Niermann O’Neil to make sure that officials in all affected business districts are apprised of council’s plans.
Council members asked the city law department to review other parts of the city code, including provisions that would still allow the incoming elected mayor or the current city manager to invoke what would amount to a “state of emergency” under certain circumstances, Committee Vice Chairman Mike Ungar noted.
Council Vice President Kahlil Seren asked if the city’s other regular juvenile curfews would remain in effect, and was told that they would. Those curfews begin at dusk for children younger than 12, 10:30 p.m. for kids up to age 16, then midnight for ages 16-18.
Seren also asked about continued safeguards for peaceful assembly, for which Police Sgt. Sean Corrigan suggested the law department review clauses like “lawful” vs. “unlawful gatherings,” the latter including mobbing and looting.
Seren cited other sections of the code that cover rioting, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and failure to disperse, which attorneys said are separate from ordinances governing only minors.
“As part of the curfew ordinance, we want to make sure that First Amendment rights are fully protected,” Cobb said.
Councilwoman Davida Russell asked Mecklenburg for a copy of her report, adding that “hopefully, we’re going to do away with this curfew.”
O’Neil recalled some of the circumstances surrounding the business district curfew being invoked.
“During the era of flash mobs, merchants in Coventry, Cedar-Lee and Severance were very concerned about people gathering and moving up and down the street,” O’Neil said. “And anyone who’s ever been in one knows that flash mobs were pretty scary moments.”
That included O’Neil, former Mayor Dennis Wilcox and Councilwoman Mary Dunbar, who were on hand for one of the melees on Coventry in 2011 that resulted in 16 arrests, Mecklenburg noted.
“We saw that one up close, then came back to council and this legislation was put into place,” O’Neil said. “So, time has gone by and the chief, after looking at the data and what’s going on in our districts, has a strong recommendation.”
Mecklenburg said the flash mobs on Coventry consisted of “kids running around in large crowds, sometimes as they were fighting each other, sometimes knocking other people to the ground.”
She also outlined some of the exceptions to the curfew, such as being accompanied by an adult family member, “when on an errand or legitimate business — such as going to the library — or when engaged in gainful employment,” attending school or sports-related activities or a religious event.
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