St. Paul police crack down on kids out lateby Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
Last spring, St. Paul police noticed a problem in the city: There was a spike in juvenile crime. So they beefed up a program that's worked in the past. Active enforcement of the city's curfew law designed to keep kids off the street at night.
Police Chief John Harrington says it's working.
Minnesota Public Radio's Marisa Helms took a ride with two St. Paul police officers during a recent curfew sweep and has this report.
St. Paul, Minn. — It's just after 10 o'clock on Friday night.
St. Paul Police officer Nicole Sack is heading toward St. Paul's east side.
"Right now we're looking for people that are under the age of 15, because they can't be out past 10 p.m.," says Sack. "Then after midnight, it's basically everybody that's under the age of 18."
The curfew detail on Friday and Saturday nights is just two squad cars covering the entire city. They spend four hours patrolling bus stops, street corners, and fast food parking lots.
"When I'm on the curfew detail, I issue a citation because it's zero tolerance," Sack continues, "That's what we're out here to do. So everybody I come in contact with who's out past curfew gets a citation."
Sack pulls up to a group of young men walking along Payne Avenue on St. Paul's east side. Sack asks them where they're going, their age, and for their IDs, while her partner, Julie Maidment, pats down one of them.
All four of the young men turn out to be over 18. And suspicions of pot smoking don't turn into an arrest. Officers Sack and Maidment get back in their squads and head downtown.
Police say juvenile case numbers are down and the rash of juvenile robberies last spring have all but stopped. They credit increased curfew enforcement this summer. Details have been out every Friday and Saturday night. The officers who staff the program volunteer to work overtime.
The cops on curfew patrol don't want to give citations to these kids, but they do find themselves drawn to the hunt. They know where kids hang out, and they know just because some kids are waiting for a bus, that doesn't mean they're on their way home.
At a downtown bus stop, Officers Sack and Maidment approach a group of kids and ask how old they are. Maidment takes two girls in her squad, and Sack puts a 13-year-old boy in her back seat, away from another boy who says he's his brother. Over the objections of the older of the two, Sack explains that she's taking the younger boy to the curfew center
It's just after 10:30 p.m. Sack and Maidment make the first of several visits to the curfew center. It's downtown at the juvenile jail. The center's been around since the mid-1990s. Ramsey County pays for it. And the sheriff's department staffs it with a deputy.
The kids are given citations by the officers and permission to make a phone call. After passing through a metal detector, they wait in a big room that looks like an empty cafeteria, with plastic chairs and long tables. There's a partition to separate the boys and the girls. It's quiet. There are no radios or televisions.
Deputy Matt Lassegard watches over them while they sit and wait for somebody to come get them.
"It ranges from - they don't want to pick up their kids, or they don't have a ride, or they don't care, some don't care," says Lassegard. "But most of them do care, and they do come down to get their kids or send somebody that's a family member to come pick them up."
Lassegard says if a parent or guardian doesn't show or can't be verified, then kids are placed in a foster home for up to three days.
After processing the two girls and 13-year-old boy, Officers Sack and Maidment get back on their patrol.
Again and again throughout the city, they pull up to kids and ask over and over, 'how old are you?' They check ID's and take underage kids to the curfew center. Back and forth throughout the night.
Officer Maidment's day assignment is with the St. Paul schools. She says her experience with kids helps her on the curfew patrol.
"I think it's all about rapport," she says. "You don't need to scare them, and you don't need to intimidate them. You need to talk to them."
Maidment's been volunteering for curfew patrol every summer since she started with the force nine years ago.
"It's really all about safety, you know. These kids being out late at night. There's really nothing to do," says Maidment. "I mean there's only a few options for you - get in trouble, or be a victim. And both those options are pretty scary. They're not positive."
Maidment says she's founds kids with pellet guns or air guns. Many times kids have been drinking or doing drugs. She says bored kids out late can start to make their own fun which can turn into trouble.
"It's normal teenage stuff; trying car door handles," she says. "It's that quality of life issues you try to address every day."
The curfew patrol does not handle actual crimes in progress. The regular patrols do that. The curfew officer's job is solely to get underage kids off the street.
Now that summer's coming to a close, there are fewer kids out. Maidment says at the beginning of the summer, the two patrols would drive vans because of all the kids they'd find, sometimes up to 70 for one squad.
On this night, between the two patrols, officers talk to several dozen kids, and pick up about 20. One 14-year-old girl was standing alone at a bus stop at 11:40 at night on a very dark street in one of St. Paul's toughest neighborhoods. The officers also picked up a pair of 17-year-old cousins near the Midway McDonald's. They said they were on their way home. But after midnight, that's not good enough. The cousins are tagged and brought to the curfew center.
During the last stop at the center at around quarter to one in the morning, the 13-year-old boy who was separated from his brother earlier in the night is still waiting to be picked up.
"Can I call my grandma and see if she left the house?" he asks.
Deputy Lassegard assures him, "We just called.... She's probably getting ready.... Wait another 10 minutes."
At the end of the curfew patrol, Maidment and Stack pass their paperwork on to a sergeant who's waiting in his patrol car in the department parking lot.
The juvenile unit will follow up on each of the kids cited for curfew violation, a petty misdemeanor. Depending on their records, the punishment ranges from a warning to a date with juvenile court. In all cases, parents are notified. During a curfew sweep, concerns about a kid's home and parents are the backdrop to every police stop and every line of questioning that starts with 'how old are you?'