Council hears youth curfew concerns

Photo by Jennifer Kimble
Bishop Robert Arnold addresses the Camden City Council about a stricter youth curfew
Photo by Jennifer Kimble Bishop Robert Arnold addresses the Camden City Council about a stricter youth curfew

The Camden City Council heard concerns about the youth curfew in efforts to cut back juvenile crimes on Tuesday.

Several residents from different backgrounds in the Camden and Ouachita County community came before the council to voice their opinions on how the youth curfew affects the current society.

Bishop Robert Arnold addressed the council first, and brought up the current youth curfew in place in the city. He informed the crowd about the ordinance passed 32 years ago and read the law to the crowd.

At the end of the reading, he stated he chose to live in Camden to be an encouraging productive member of the community by making a difference in the lives of the future of the area.

"Every child is important, and that's why I stay here and teaching at the middle school," Arnold said. "We need to focus on our children."

While Arnold sought a change for earlier curfew, other participants did not even want a curfew in place, stating it didn't work in other cities and Camden wasn't prepared to follow through on youth curfew enforcement.

Former bail bondsman and parole officer Chad Canada shared statistics from other bigger cities in the U.S. stating youth curfews did not help curve crime. He added most ranked among the highest crime rates in the nation.

"Do we really need an ordinance not being enforced?" asked Canada. "Why criminalize the kids for being out?"

He said the solution begins at home with the parents' relationship to their children. Alderman Lawrence Askew inquired how to get the movement started in the home, which the council debated on with each incoming workshop's participant.

Adding to the enforcement side of the issue, Officer Scott Bodenhamer agreed with Canada that the solution begins with parents. The officer explained if he comes across a curfew violator he tells them to go home.

"My job is not to criminalize our youth," Bodenhamer said. "Do you really want to turn Camden into 'FootLoose?'"

The detective told council only two officers serve to watch over Camden on night shift, making it almost impossible to catch every violator.

Tagging in with a juvenile probation perspective on violators, JP Officer Nicole McKenzie added the county lacks services to help families, without a court order. Prior family services, such as family therapy, ceased when the Magnolia center closed. She also agreed resolve starts in the home, being a parent herself.

In a separate interview, Chief Bo Woody said every entity has a role and he did not take his department's part lightly, being a father of four children. His concern stands with the fact that most incidents happen during the day, when a truancy curfew takes place.

After other participant input, the council felt most of the 15 people attending the workshop wanted to see the current curfew enforced and workshops on improving Camden's environment for the youth. Suggestions included community meetings in different locations in the city to discuss issues and solutions or offering to "fill in the gaps" on lack of youth activities provided in the city or hiring an employee to search for family service programs.