Victoria Garnto, 17, of Harlem, works at BG's Deli and Fine Catering, where the curfew will affect her only while she is working late on a catering job.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
A recently passed city curfew in Harlem is designed to make sure minors don't loiter on city streets and sidewalks and in parks late at night.
"I think it's horrible," said Victoria Garnto, 17, who lives just outside the city limits, but spends much of her time inside the city with friends and working at BG's Deli and Fine Catering.
Harlem City Council unanimously passed the ordinance Monday. The curfew, which goes into effect Sept. 1, prohibits anyone 17 and under from wandering, strolling, loitering or playing in public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, playgrounds, vacant lots, eating places or other public places or buildings after 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday nights and after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. The curfew extends to 5 a.m. all week.
"It's not a major problem, but we don't want it to become a problem," City Councilwoman Robin Root said Monday.
Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Jerry Baldwin said that there is no major problem caused by minors loitering and that the curfew conforms with state driver's license guidelines that requires minors under 17 who drive to be home by midnight.
"It's going to be a good practice," Baldwin said, adding that the curfew also is a way to keep minors and the community safe.
The curfew allows for minors who work past the permitted time to go directly home from their workplace and for those traveling with a parent or guardian, those on an emergency errand for parents or guardians and traveling directly to or from religious functions.
Victoria, who would be exempt from the curfew when she works late catering jobs for BG's, doesn't understand the need for such an early curfew because she says Harlem doesn't have many bad things happen late at night.
"People don't walk the streets of Harlem at night anyway," Victoria said. "I understand a curfew, maybe 12 midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends ... just not that early."
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said police currently do not have any authority to take minors home if their parents do not enforce a curfew.
"So now, we are giving police the authority to take that child home," Dean said.
Parents of minors found out past the curfew also will be notified of their child's curfew violation, Baldwin said.
Julie Miller, the director of Columbia County Family Connection in Harlem, has two teenage children and agrees with the curfew.
"I think it limits the opportunity for trouble," Miller said. "I think it's a fabulous thing. I think they should do it all over the county."
Ron Cross, the chairman of the Columbia County Commission, said a countywide curfew is not something commissioners have talked about before, but it is something they would consider if need be.
"We haven't had any discussion at all about curfews that I can recall," Cross said. "So that's indicative that there's no problem that they would help solve. There would be no questions if (Sheriff) Clay (Whittle) brought us something or Pam (Tucker, emergency services director), or some of those that felt like the immediate solution to whatever problem was that we would certainly look at it.''
Baldwin said said Harlem isn't waiting until a problem arises to set a curfew, but that warnings will be issued for a while after the curfew takes effect.
"It's going to be an awareness issue first of all," Baldwin said. "We just want everyone to be aware that there is going to be a curfew. It they aren't aware of it, we'll certainly educate them.''
Violations could cost parents or guardians up to a $500 fine and 60 days in the city jail. Minors will be sent to Juvenile Court, where they could face similar penalties.
"I'm not ready for a curfew," Victoria said, "I protest."
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