Aspen youths, adults debate need for curfew
Editor’s note: In accordance with an Aspen Institute policy – established to encourage its seminar participants to speak freely – The Aspen Times agreed not to directly quote from Tuesday’s discussion about the city’s curfew law.
Several community leaders, city officials, police officers and Aspen High School students participated in a round-table discussion about the city’s 30-year-old curfew law for minors at the Aspen Institute Tuesday evening.
The 20 participants, ranging in age from 16 to about 60, brought vastly different perspectives to the table and largely agreed that further study and dialogue must occur if any amendments to the law are to be made.
Curiously enough, while several adult participants said they favored abolishing the law altogether – as it enables parent irresponsibility and heavy-handed government – none of the student participants said they wished to go that far. The students favored amending the present law to exclude 16- and 17-year-olds, or extending the curfew on weekends and during school breaks. Currently, Aspen’s curfew is in place from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.
A close reading of the language of the municipal statute, revealed, in one lawyer’s view, that the law itself is vague, and as a result, difficult to enforce. A variety of scenarios, including participation in a civic event like a New Year’s Eve celebration, could exempt minors from being in violation of the curfew law, according to the attorney.
Police said only 11 juveniles have arrested for curfew violations since 1996, and in each case, the youth had been initially contacted for another violation, such as disorderly conduct or possession of alcohol.
While the law is rarely enforced, officers said it’s commonly used as a tool to disperse groups of youngsters hanging out after 11 p.m., usually after business owners or residents lodge complaints about loitering and noise.
Speaking for their peers, several students said they feel harassed or discriminated against because of their age when officers confront them about being out past curfew, even if the officer politely sends them on their way.
Participants learned that the curfew could be amended or abolished by a majority vote of the Aspen City Council, though most agreed that the political realities of doing so would be immensely difficult, given the the recent arrests of several local youths in connection with a string of robberies and a burglary.
Nevertheless, participants acknowledged that there is room for compromise about the law, and Andrew Kole, a local talk-radio host, agreed to spearhead further discussions about the matter.
The students also recognized that in order to make any changes to the law, they must be the driving force. And incidentally, the first-ever community meeting between Aspen School District students (not limited to high schoolers) and the city officials is scheduled for this afternoon, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., in rooms 104-105 at the high school.
One issue slated for discussion at today’s meeting is the possible formation of a youth council, which would be modeled after a successful program in Boulder.
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