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Return of the curfew

Pinellas Park begins enforcing its juvenile curfew after a nearly two-year break. But few teens are found out after midnight.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Perhaps it was the weather, overcast with rain threatening. Perhaps kids have just learned how to hide from the cops. Or maybe the word had gotten out.

Whatever the reason, few youths were out on the streets on the first night Pinellas Park began enforcing its juvenile curfew, reinstated after nearly a two-year lapse. Reports were not available Saturday of the number who were warned, but the police hoped to issue warnings rather than make arrests the first night, unless they saw little other choice.

The night seemed peaceful.

That gave police a chance to deal with other matters: A car being driven without headlights after dark. An apparently drunken driver weaving down U.S. 19. A half-naked man wandering near Park Street and U.S. 19. Adults were causing more trouble than kids early Saturday morning.

The curfew had been suspended while lawyers argued over its constitutionality. After Pinellas Park won its case, police officers worked hard to make sure everyone knew the curfew was back.

Officers contacted the media. They handed out brochures in places kids hang out in Pinellas Park, such as Southland roller skating rink. Sunshine Lanes, which is open all night, even made an announcement about half an hour before enforcement began at 12:01 a.m. that kids under 18 not accompanied by an adult needed to leave and go home.

Officer James Bupp drove through the streets, looking for youths to warn. At 11:26 p.m. on Friday, he found a group of kids on 102nd Avenue N. Pulling his police van over to the side, he told them, "You need to be off the street by 12 o'clock because that is when the curfew takes effect."

Minutes after the curfew kicked in, Bupp got his first call. Residents near Youth Park reported that kids were hanging out in the park.

Bupp drove around and was unable to find the kids until he got out and searched the park on foot. Then he saw three boys standing near the woods on the south side of the park.

He called them over to him and asked their ages: All three were 18 or older. That meant they were not violating the curfew. But Bupp and other officers who had arrived made them leave the park because it closes at dark, like all city parks.

"Avoid being in a park after dark," Bupp said.

At about 1:15 a.m., Bupp helped other officers who had found a group of six kids near 58th Street N and 94th Avenue. One was 15. Two were 16 and two were 17. The other was 20 -- over the curfew age.

Bupp explained the curfew: Youths younger than 18 must be off the streets from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. On weekends and holidays, youths younger than 18 cannot be out without an adult from midnight to 7 a.m.

The first offense brings a warning for the juvenile and parents. The penalties for subsequent violations are tougher: Youths and their parents each can be fined up to $500, sentenced up to six months in jail or both. It does not matter whether the youth lives in Pinellas Park. What matters is that the youth was violating the curfew in Pinellas Park.

The curfew was suspended after a judge declared it unconstitutional. But after appellate judges reinstated the curfew, Pinellas Park again is enforcing it. If kids were caught out when it was being enforced before, those violations still stand.

That was bad for two of the boys on 58th Street. They'd had warnings before.

One of them said, "You guys ain't playing no more."

Other youths also found that to be true. One 17-year-old girl who was found with four other people on 52nd Street a little after 2 a.m. was angry to learn that previous violations count.

She had gotten a warning in 1997 for violating the curfew. At first, she denied she had ever been caught for violating the curfew. But when the violation came up on the city's computer, she conceded she might have been warned about the curfew a long time ago. Eventually she agreed she had been caught before.

That meant Saturday morning's violation could net her and her parents a fine. That upset her.

When Bupp let her go, she stomped across the street and unlocked a car door, complaining that it was unfair to hold the previous incident against her.

"Three years ago!" she said to one of her friends as she flung her purse into the car. Her mother was away, she said, and she was supposed to spend the night at her friend's in Pinellas Park "But not now!"

She slammed the car door and left, with one parting comment: "I don't believe this s--!"

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