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Do San Diego's Curfew Sweeps Deter Crime?

March 13, 2012 1:06 p.m.

Guests: Keegan Kyle, reporter, VoiceofSanDiego.org

Ramla Sahid, community organizer, Midcity Community Action Network

Related Story: Are SDPD's Curfew Sweeps Doing The Job?

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's accepted wisdom that the curfew law in San Diego reduces crime. The curfew makes it a misdemeanor for children under 18 to be out without an adult between the hours of 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM. Everyone from police to politicians have praised the curfew, and especially curfew sweeps for keeping kids and neighborhoods safer in San Diego. But a new report by voice of San Diego says it ain't necessarily so. The analysis conducted by Voice challenges whether curfew sweeps which pick up and detain kids in targeted neighborhoods are actually keeping crime down. I'd like to introduce my guests, Kegan Kyle of voice of San Diego, the lead reporter on the article on curfew sweeps. Welcome to the show.

KYLE: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And here is Ramla Sahid, a community organization with the mid-city community network. Welcome.

SAHID: Good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: We invited the San Diego police department to join in on this conversation, but no one was available to join us today. Kegan, what made you look at the curfew sweeps and how they were working in San Diego?

KYLE: Well, it all started about four years ago when the police department decided to start doing regular sweeps in southeastern San Diego, and since then, they've kind of expanded those sweeps across the city's urban core, and now you've seen that in the past four years, they basically tripled the number of juvenile arrests during curfew hours for curfew violations

CAVANAUGH: So you heard everybody saying this was the reason crime was down in neighborhoods across San Diego, most especially curfew sweeps. First of all, tell us what happens during a curfew sweep so we're all on the same page.

KYLE: What San Diego does is really unique. It's often called a collaborative curfew sweep because they want to distinguish it from just a massive arrest of a neighborhood of kids. They kind. Assemble all these officers at a school or a church site, and then at 10:00 PM we'll unleash them into the neighborhood and collect all the kids that are out violating curfew, and bring them back to this school. And they'll continue to do that throughout the night until 3:00 AM or 4:00 AM. Once the kid comes back to the school, they're taken through, their arrest is processed, and then they're connected with social services if they're eligible as well as their parents, and then educators and community volunteers hope to try to get to the root cause of why kids are out past 10:00 PM and to educate people about maybe the dangers of why they shouldn't be out during that time.

CAVANAUGH: Now, there's a curfew in place for the whole City of San Diego. But the sweeps don't take place in the whole City of San Diego, right?

KYLE: Right. So the police department occasionally will do sweeps outside the city's urban core. But the regular sweeps are all in southeastern San Diego neighborhoods, like City Heights as well as parts of downtown, and Logan Heights area.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us the difference between what officials say curfew sweeps do for I community, and what your report revealed.

KYLE: Up until this point, there was a lot of confidence about the program and how much it was responsible for decreasing juvenile crime. You had City Council members, police officers, who were very pleased with the drop in crime in recent years and would say it's because of this program, look at all the great things we're doing. Well, my report kind of shows -- it questions how much responsibility can be attributed to this program for reducing crime because in places that don't do regular curfew sweep, you've actually seen greater reductions in juvenile crime during curfew hours.

CAVANAUGH: So okay. Did your report also look at the effectiveness of curfews in general in reducing crime, not just sweeps?

KYLE: Well, there have been numerous studies about just the effect of having curfews, and they'll compare cities with curfews and without curfews. And almost uniformly, those studies have shown that just the mere presence of having a curfew doesn't substantially increase or have an impact on crime. So in some city, crime would go up, in others it would go down, which led researchers to say there's just no conclusive evidence that these are good, one way or the other.

CAVANAUGH: One of the most interesting parts of your article is this conclusion that the numbers have shown you that crime has gone down in areas with sweeps, but it's also gone down more in areas -- neighborhoods in San Diego without sweeps; is that right?

KYLE: Yeah. It's a huge puzzle. And I think Marti Emerald put it really well, she said this is just an eye opener. Because up until now, everyone was saying look at how great these sweeps are, we should expand them to other neighborhoods. Now I'm talking with Marti Emerald, and she says well, maybe we should start figuring out what those other neighborhoods are doing and bring that to City Heights.

CAVANAUGH: We're talking about an article in Voice about curfew sweeps, and whether or not they are as great as everyone says they are in reducing crime in certain neighborhoods. My second guest now, ramla Sahid, community organizer with the mid-city community advocacy network. As a community organizer in City Heights, I know you're concerned about these sweeps. What is it that you're concerned about?

SAHID: So we know that youth are disproportionately represented in the juvenile system in nearly every state of the nation. In San Diego, you have Latino and black youth make up 74% of the juvenile population in juvenile facilities. Our concern is that there's a lot of -- there are a lot of questions. And the focus -- focusing resources on a practice that's proven that it doesn't work, there's not enough evidence to point to it and say this is why crime has gone down, questions why is that? When we could have more responsive solution, targeted solutions. And I think people with the curfew sweeps, we have very good-hearted volunteers who think they're doing great work. And to them, they're saving lives, right? And so how do we capture that momentum and that spirit? And how do we go to a more collaborative effort between enforcement agencies like probation and our mid-city division and include community -- regular community members in decision making about implementing programs?

CAVANAUGH: Right. It just occurs to me, let me open the phones for people who perhaps have participated in a curfew sweep, either been caught up in one or perhaps been a volunteer to provide services for those young people who have been taken off the streets in a curfew sweep. So ramla, one reason is resources, limited resources be used on curfew sweeps which according to this article are not as effective as everybody has been saying they are. Is there also the problem that getting into the juvenile system itself through the curfew sweep is a problem for some kids?

SAHID: Absolutely. I think research has shown consistently that young -- youth that are engaged in the juvenile justice system early on go on as adults into prison. So it's about really getting communities to focus on healing through collaborative efforts, and at our momentum team, we've realized that we have a high undocumented revugee and imgrant community that comes from governments that don't have cops or are unprogressive. So having sweeps, cops going into the community arresting youth for curfew, it just promotes more fear andeates a lot of anxiety in the community and mistrust. So it's about interrupting that process. And it's also about how do we move toward creating programs that defer entry of judgment for even higher crimes?

CAVANAUGH: Right.

SAHID: So not focusing on curfew sweeps, which actually promote an early -- context, have an opportunity for those kids to get diverted out of that system as well.

CAVANAUGH: Kegan, in your article, you say that it seems that no one really remembers how the sweeps started in City Heights or why they started in city heights. Well, what did enforcement tell you about that?

KYLE: Well, that's one of the biggest mysteries of my research still to this point, which is I talked with City Council members, police officers, I looked at old City Council meetings and read a lot of reports. And what people attribute to the reason why this program had started never found the original documentation of when it started. People were saying it started in southeast San Diego after this very tragic murder of two teenagers following a party in Valencia park. They left this party after curfew and were gunned down, and it was a very tragic incident for that community. But it also at the same time rallied that community around the idea of curfew sweep, that this was an example of the -- a very extreme example of the type of crime they wanted to prevent, why they wanted to take kids off the street. At the same time, that incident happened four months after police started doing the curfew sweeps in southeastern San Diego, and six months after a city commission had endorsed that idea. So there's still this mystery about why did we even start doing curfew sweeps? And the west answer I got was there was a spike in gang violence in southeastern San Diego in the summer of 2008, and the community wanted to try to figure out some way to become more actively involved and to respond, and that the curfew sweeps as -- in coordination with social services, was one answer to that.

CAVANAUGH: Steve is calling from ranch PeÒasquitos.

NEW SPEAKER: I just want to applaud your show and guests for delving into this issue and exposing it. As a former peace officer, and as the father of a girl who was caught up in one of these sweep, I'm highly skeptical of the efficacy of these programs, and of the intentions behind them. My daughter and three of her companioions were in no sense on the street. They were just a matter of about 100 yards from a house that was, walking through a park, four girls from band doing absolutely nothing wrong other than being in violation of the curfew because they, like me, believed that it was 11:00 when it was actually 10:00 at the time. And they were arrested, immediately diverted -- three of the girls were immediately diverted into a diversion program, they attempted originally to charge my daughter with obstructing a peace officer because she followed the advice I had always given her, to remain silent as a person is entitled to do at the scene. You have to answer bookings but not questions at the scene of an event, and she followed my advice, my instructions. And so they wanted to send her directly to juvenile hall.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

NEW SPEAKER: Thereby creating yet another crime statistic in a neighborhood which had basically zero crime. If you forget about the fact that a police officer's son killed his mother in that same neighborhood a week later. But it had nothing to do with curfew.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much for the call. We really do get the point and I do appreciate your calling in. This was a bad experience obviously with a occur few sweep, and I would imagine that a lot of people have some bad experiences with them. Although there are many people that even though people think those sweeps are not responsible, perhaps they are not responsible in and of itself in a drop in crime, some believe that they're very positive for neighborhoods. And I'm going to ask you, ramla, isn't there any good in having people -- young kids who might be victims or might get into trouble actually be diverted into more positive ways to spend their time?

SAHID: Absolutely. I think the intention behind it for a lot of our volunteers is a beautiful one. When they're out there volunteering, they're thinking about -- they're saving a kid's life. They're probably taking a kid out of the street who would have been victimized otherwise. So the intention is good for those volunteers. However, I think that when you again have a community with high immigrant and refugee populations that come from oppressive governments, that's not the sense that you get. The other thing is, in a community where for a family of four, you maybe $19,000-$24,000 a year, resources are a big issue. Getting caught up in a sweep, you get fined $290.

KYLE: I'm not sure the exact amount. But it's definitely more than $100.

SAHID: Right. So you come back to the issue of resources in the community, resources that they don't have. And so absolutely, I think that it's good that kids are coming off the street, but there are other ways, more community oriented ways that really don't need heavy enforcement from the police side that could be promoted.

CAVANAUGH: Michael, let me take your call quickly. Welcome to the show. Michael are you there?

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, I'm here. I had a question for the panel on what is an acceptable reason for a juvenile to be out after 10:00? I had a friend, they were two 17 year-old girls, they left their senior prom on a Friday night, they got lost in downtown San Diego, they weren't familiar with the street, were pulled over by the police and were arrested for being out after 10:00.

CAVANAUGH: Let me find out that for you, Michael. Kegan is here to tell us about that.

KYLE: Yeah, so there are numerous exceptions to San Diego's curfew law. School-related activities is one, there's also church-related activities, if you have certain types of permission from a parent or guardian, you can be out past curfew. And those are all listed on the city's website, if you ever need to look them up.

CAVANAUGH: Now your article mentions briefly, there's some evidence that curfew sweeps targeted against gang activity might really make a difference. What does the survey in Dallas tell us?

KYLE: Sure. That was a study that looked at curfew sweeps in Dallas, and what they found was that it had basically curtailed gang violence, was their specific term, and in doing so, it had also potentially reduced the victimization for all types of crimes. It was a very promising study according to the U.S. Department of Justice. But again, it's a very big question out in the research community about is this a limited study or something that applies to all cities that do curfew sweeps like San Diego?

CAVANAUGH: And there's more gang activity reported in other neighborhoods outside of City Heights, right?

KYLE: Oh, yes, Mira Mesa is a great example, as well as San Ysidro.

CAVANAUGH: Who don't have curfew sweeps?

KYLE: Regular curfew sweeps. That places do do them, but it's the ones that happen every single month for the past two year, at least.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of interest has this report that you've done and the number crunching generated among people? You mentioned that you spoke with city councilwoman Marti Emerald about this. Is there any chance that there might be some review of this policy following this report?

KYLE: I think there's definitely going to be a review both from Marti Emerald who's interested in learning more about the statistics, and why crime has gone up in other places more than places that do curfew sweeps. As well as the police themselves. I talked with the assistant chief of police Boyd long who was very happy we had taken a look at this program and looked at some of the statistics.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank my guests. Thank you both very much for speaking with me.

SAHID: Thank you.

KYLE: Thank you.