Starting Wednesday, Benewah County youths must be home by the time the 11 o’clock news comes on.
The county’s new youth curfew bans youths from being in public places from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week. The law applies to youths under 18. Penalties include fines and detention.
With little debate, the Benewah County commissioners approved the curfew May 13.
“It’s not a cure-all, but it’s a tool for officers to use,” said Prosecutor Rich Christensen. “It’s aimed at those kids who are standing around in the streets with nothing to do.”
It’s also aimed at parents, who are liable for fines of up to $500 and jail time up to six months if they knowingly let their children out during curfew hours. Business owners, as well, are liable for prosecution if minors are on the premises after-hours.
The curfew caught some local teens by surprise.
“When did they pass that?” said Betsy Whitehead of St. Maries. “I’m really happy that I’m 18.”
“Oh, man,” said Leslie Hammond, 17, also of St. Maries. “I think it’s a little extreme. Eleven to 6? That’s pretty early.”
Although Hammond doesn’t like the details, she said she supports the idea of a curfew.
“I think it’s sort of justified, considering the things that have been going on - keying of cars and siphoning of gas.”
She said she’s skeptical that local youths will obey the ordinance.
The Association of Idaho Cities estimates that more than half of Idaho’s counties, including Kootenai County, have youth curfew laws.
Benewah’s cities and the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe are expected to approve identical versions of the ordinance soon.
“At the next council meeting, it will be approved,” vowed Plummer Mayor Harold Whitley, who runs the Benewah Market. “Having kids out at 3 or 4 in the morning should be out of the ordinary.”
The market was burglarized eight times in five months this winter. The burglaries - there were more than 30 in Plummer this winter - prompted officials to draft the curfew.
The county also has had vandalism problems at the Christmas Hills recreation area, and last fall someone broke sets of bleachers at a St. Maries city park.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has had a juvenile curfew for several years. But it was impractical to enforce tribal law on juvenile non-Indians, said Margaret Jose, tribal court administrator. She said the county ordinance will be reviewed by the tribe’s law and order committee.
“We do need to have a common curfew,” she said. “It was just being abused by Indians and non-Indians too much. It was real hard to separate who was who.”
The county ordinance applies to both non-Indians and Indians, on- and off the reservation, Christensen said.
“That way, you don’t have different times and different defenses to confuse law enforcement,” he said.
Benewah’s curfew includes several exceptions. Juveniles may be out during the curfew hours if they are:
Accompanied by a parent.
On an errand for a parent.
Involved in an emergency.
At an official school, religious or club activity.
“This ordinance leaves officers with a lot of discretion out in the field,” said Christensen.
Benewah Sheriff Rodney Thormahlen said the curfew would help curb vandalism, theft, loitering and late-night drinking parties.
As things stand now, deputies can call parents if they find drunken youths. Under the curfew, even youths who haven’t been drinking at the party could be prosecuted.
“Once it (the curfew) gets going, the parents will have to take notice of it,” Thormahlen said. “It makes the parents more responsible, instead of leaving it up to law enforcement to take care of their kids.”