Dewey sets uniform curfew hours

Minors must be home by 11 p.m. except for allowed instances
August 22, 2023

Minors in Dewey must now adhere to an 11 p.m. curfew Friday and Saturday nights, after a unanimous commissioner vote Aug. 18 to establish a consistent curfew time seven days a week.

The town has had a curfew for minors since at least 2010, so this is nothing new, said Mayor Bill Stevens. The curfew would just be lowered from midnight to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights to match the established 11 p.m. curfew Sunday through Thursday nights.

Stevens said he received a forwarded email that provided a quote attributed to the ACLU regarding the ordinance. However, in the email, a representative from the ACLU said the provided quote was based on a characterization of the ordinance, and not Dewey’s proposed ordinance itself. 

Town Counsel Fred Townsend said he had contacted the ACLU the day before and sent representatives a copy of the ordinance, which proposes to make a change to one aspect of town code.

“The balance of the code contains a number of different protections that would enable a juvenile to go to and from some appropriate activity,” Townsend said, “whether it’s a job, to be on an errand, and to be on the street in the case of an emergency, or to be exercising their First Amendment protected rights. So, that language I don't think the ACLU had an opportunity to witness.”

If the ACLU were to have specific concerns about the ordinance as a whole, town officials would invite those considerations, Townsend said.

Curfews have been upheld in Delaware, Townsend said. Evidence obtained following a stop for a curfew violation has been debated as to whether it should be suppressed, he said, but an actual stop based on someone apparently being a juvenile and in violation of the curfew was not challenged.

In a number of cities, curfews are generally well accepted, Townsend said, noting some places have curfews during the day when children are supposed to be in school.

Chief Constance Speake said 70% of towns and cities have curfews in effect. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, she said, curfews give officers the means to disperse late-night crowds of juveniles, such as was evidenced during June Bug week and over the July 4 weekend. Curfews also give parents support and legitimacy for restricting children’s late-night activity, she said. 

“We are not targeting people,” she said, noting officers are not concerned with juveniles walking home, or to and from work or a school activity. 

“If we can deal with this problem and they go home by 11 o’clock at night, then we can deal with our other issues that happen at the bar rush at 1 o’clock when a lot of people are intoxicated, and we have a lot of fights and stuff like that,” she said.

Commissioner Elisabeth Gibbings said many residents contacted her about the issue, and she had no problem with changing the curfew time, which she said contributes to safety.

“We’re not going to be profiling,” Gibbings said. “We’re not doing ageism; we’re not making it illegal to walk while young.” 

Two individuals spoke via Zoom during public comment. One person said she thought 11 p.m. was early for 17-year-olds, because, for example, her daughters would have to begin walking home from their friend's house at 10:30 p.m.

No other parents are aware the town has a curfew, the resident said, noting that the parents come from places where curfews are used for instances of violent teenage crime. Dewey will have one of the area’s most restrictive curfews, she said, and stopping law-abiding teens should be a low enforcement priority.

Via Zoom, former Commissioner David Moskowitz said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking arrest data that the town did not provide. Dewey’s officers are mostly white males, he said.

“How do you know the stops are not disproportionately female and disproportionately minorities if the town’s not tracking data, which seems fishy because my FOIA should have been answered,” Moskowitz said.

Minors would be entrapped as they walk public streets, Moskowitz said, and the curfew will affect everyone, because anyone can be stopped if they look underage.

“This is America, and it sounds like Russia where someone can ask you for your papers,” he said.

After the meeting, Town Manager Bill Zolper said by phone that Moskowitz’s FOIA request asked for the number of tickets issued each month over the past five years for curfew violations, underage consumption, disorderly conduct of a minor, and disorderly conduct of an individual age 18 and older.

“While the Dewey Beach Police Department has historically produced basic monthly reports, no report currently exists that provides a total number of tickets for the specific types of violations that Mr. Moskowitz is seeking,” Zolper said.

One resident spoke in person, stating that the curfew was needed. Kids move from house to house in packs of 20 to 25, he said, noting another problem exists when parents sign out rental units for kids to stay in. Juveniles are loud and alcohol is involved, he said, and kids get into cars and go elsewhere while presumably drinking. Young people should not be stopped just because of their age, he said.

Commissioner David Jasinski said no one wants to harass anyone, and that the chief has asked for the tools necessary to do her job.

“Enforcing things appropriately is why we hired Chief Speake in the first place, to make sure her people use proper discretion,” Jasinski said.

The idea is not to arrest good people, but to get rid of the bad people, Commissioner Paul Bauer said. 

Commissioner Gary Persinger said the chief has asked for this change because she believes it’s necessary and will be effective. In granting that, he said, it is incumbent on the town to provide education to the public and vacationers about the curfew, so families can adjust their plans if needed.

The action follows a July 21 vote in which commissioners raised the penalty for curfew violation from $100 to $300.

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