The clock is ticking down toward June 5, when Columbus will be stepping up enforcement of its curfew law for teenagers.
The aim is not to bust kids, but to get them home before something bad happens, city and school board officials explained.
"Statistics show that young people are more likely to be the victims of crime" if they are out late, City Councilman Andrew Ginther said May 19, prior to the vote to pay $75,000 to the YMCA for the curfew center program. "Our top priority is to protect kids."
The curfew prohibits teens ages 13-17 from being out between midnight and 4:30 a.m. Kids younger than 13 have to be home one hour after sunset.
Columbus has had the curfew law on the books for 40 years, Ginther noted, but it has been difficult to enforce because police did not have anywhere to take the juveniles they picked up.
Under the new initiative launched by Mayor Michael Coleman, teens found out after hours will be taken to the YMCA at 40 W. Long St., and parents or guardians will be notified.
The curfew center will operate Thursday through Sunday during the summer months.
The families will be evaluated to determine if there are problems in the home, and can be referred to social service agencies.
For the first offense, the kids and parents will be required to attend a workshop conducted by the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Consortium.
A second offense will result in community service, and further violations could mean misdemeanor charges being filed.
"We’re not going to take the place of parents," Ginther added. "We want to make parents accountable."
The councilman expects that a guardian will pick up the curfew violators within a couple of hours, similar to the time for the school truancy program also operated through the Y.
If a teen is not picked up by 5 a.m., Children Services can be notified.
Columbus school board member W. Carlton Weddington said that the district supports the effort and is doing its part to get the word out.
Cards with a notice about the coming crack-down are being delivered with the report cards of every student, in English, Spanish and Somali.
The cards caution that 40 percent of violent acts against teens, and the same percentage of auto deaths, occur after dark.
Information also is being sent out through the district newsletter, Web site and radio and television ads.
Ginther hopes that everyone gets involved in this effort.
"For the program to work, it will take the cooperation of every member of the community," he said.