The trial of the alleged killer of a 14-year old Bridgeport youth began Monday. Justin Thompson was one of three teens killed amid a spate of deadly violence in the city in 2012.
Following calls by residents for better police protection, Bridgeport imposed a youth curfew that year. For the past two years, kids under age 18 have needed permission from a parent or legal guardian to be on the streets after 11:00 pm on weeknights, and after midnight on weekends.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch thinks the strategy is working. He called the curfew "a common-sense idea that allows the police help the parents be better parents."
Overall crime rates are down in the city, and the city has given out 58 citations -- not many, said Finch -- since the curfew took effect.
"What this is allowing the officer to do," Finch said, "is have legitimacy to interject themselves in a situation which allows the latitude to get a kid back home safely. This mayor hasn’t had to go to as many funerals."
But questions remain about the effectiveness of youth curfews and their potential for abuse. In May, a Bridgeport police officer was filmed by an onlooker striking a teen who was on the ground during an arrest for a curfew violation. And there are concerns that older adults may be harassed because they look young.
Mark Gius, a professor of economics at Quinnipiac University, has studied the effects of curfews on juvenile criminal activity. He said it's very difficult to figure out if curfews actually reduce crime, because so many variables affect youth behavior, including parental involvement and gangs.
"I think the costs outweigh the benefits, from my own perspective," Gius said. "The effect of curfews on overall crime is rather low, but the potential for abuse is there. I think there are better ways to look at youth-level crime.”
Youth curfews became popular in the 1990s as a way to fight violence. At least 500 U.S. cities had curfews in 2009, according to a report by the City Mayors Society.