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Towns Consider Curfew To Curb Juvenile Crime Officials Pushing For Ordinance To Get Kids Off The Streets At Night

Mon., Feb. 5, 1996, midnight

In Plummer, a burglary spree has some shopkeepers vowing to shoot any burglar they catch.

In St. Maries, someone broke the bleachers in the city park.

At the Christmas Hills recreation area, vandals strew garbage and beer cans and used pickup trucks to try to pull down buildings.

“People are getting a little aggravated,” said Harold Whitley, manager of Plummer’s Benewah Market, burglarized eight times in the past five months for beer and cigarettes.

Whitley, who’s also the mayor of Plummer, thinks a countywide juvenile curfew would help.

And he’s not alone - city, school and county officials are pushing for an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for anyone under the age of 18.

“It’s not going to be the panacea for juvenile crime, I have no illusions about that,” said Benewah County Prosecutor Rich Christensen. “But I think it will help.”

More than half the counties in Idaho, including Kootenai County, have curfew laws, according to Teri Ottens of the Association of Idaho Cities. Many of the laws date back to the 1950s, when curfews were routine.

Christensen said he’s writing his county’s proposed ordinance to allow penalties for both the juvenile and parents. A draft will be presented at a Feb. 14 meeting of curfew proponents.

The meeting, at Paddlewheel Pizza in St. Maries, starts at 1 p.m. If proponents like what they read, they’ll ask county commissioners to make it law.

“I think it’s going to be a good idea,” said Benewah County Sheriff Rodney Thormahlen. “It will help (reduce) shoplifting and alcoholic consumption by minors.”

Undersheriff Ed Westbrook said it’s common for teens to hang out at the Plummer Qwik-Stop, waiting for late-night sports-team buses to stop on their way home.

“Then they go in and fill their pockets,” Westbrook said. One or two clerks can’t watch everyone, he said.

Several of the recent home burglaries in Plummer were done by juveniles in the early morning, he said.

“They know that’s a good time,” Westbrook said. “And we have no tool to send them home.”

Bureau of Indian Affairs Sgt. Mike LeMieux was less optimistic, noting that only about half of the burglars getting arrested are juveniles. He estimated that there were more than 30 burglaries in Plummer last year.

Still, he supports a countywide curfew. The 1,400-member Coeur d’Alene Tribe, whose reservation includes much of Benewah County, has long had a juvenile curfew. It works fairly well, LeMieux said.

“One of the biggest deterrents is that the juvenile has to bring his parents to court,” he said.

Help is also on the way via the prosecutor’s office, LeMieux said.

In cases where the lawbreakers have been Indian teens, it’s been difficult to prosecute, he said, because the tribe doesn’t have access to state juvenile detention facilities.

Recently, however, the county has agreed to prosecute such cases.

In Plummer, Mayor Whitley wants the county to give the curfew teeth by assigning officers to the crime-prevention effort.

The town already has a juvenile curfew law - but only one part-time town marshal to enforce it. The small city can’t afford more officers, Whitley said.

“And BIA just has one man on at night, covering the whole reservation, from Fighting Creek to DeSmet,” he added.

Westbrook said the county now has two deputies living in Plummer, patrolling the county’s west end.

Whitley said he’s heard nothing but support for a curfew. “They’ve pretty well created chaos here the last four or five months,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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