For about a year in the mid-1990s, Albuquerque had a curfew prohibiting anyone under 17 from being out between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights or midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends.
Former Mayor Martin Chávez successfully pushed for the ordinance in 1994 that imposed a fine up to $500 and 90 days in jail. Curfew violators were held at the Wells Park Community Center until a parent or guardian picked them up.
Enforcement began in the summer of 1996 but stopped about a year later after a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union. The state Supreme Court eventually struck down the ordinance in 1999, ruling it violated the due process rights of children and conflicted with the state Children’s Code.
Former Albuquerque City Councilor Ken Sanchez continued the push for a curfew to help reduce juvenile crime, and the state House passed a bill by a more than 2-to-1 margin in 2016 allowing cities and counties to enact curfew ordinances for children 15 and under, with various exemptions including youths going to or returning from school or religious functions. But the measure died in the state Senate.
Recent violence by and against youth in Albuquerque have us once again supporting a curfew ordinance. Just last week, one 13-year-old girl reported being raped at a Southeast Albuquerque home while hunting rifles were stolen from her home, and the next night a 13-year-old girl was severely beaten at a nearby park. Police say both had snuck out of their homes to go to a house party at the same home.
Police have arrested three girls age 12, 13 and 14 in the beating at the park; the 12-year-old’s 15-year-old brother has been arrested in the alleged rape.
A Journal poll in August 2015 found 87% of Albuquerque adults favor a midnight curfew for children under 16. A super majority likely still exists.
The legalities of a curfew can get dicey. In July 2019, a federal judge struck down an Albuquerque ordinance restricting panhandling, saying it violated free speech protections. But the city took the court’s guidance and responded by narrowly crafting an ordinance in November prohibiting anyone from occupying medians without at least 4 feet of flat surface on streets where the speed limit is 30 mph or faster, as well as standing in or walking into the travel lanes.
If the city was able to tailor a panhandling ordinance that passes constitutional muster, we are optimistic it can do so with a curfew ordinance that keeps young people at home in the wee hours of the night. It’s an idea worth pursuing again to keep our community’s children out of harm’s way.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.