The town’s police chief says yes, as does the owner of a local business where teenagers congregate and sometimes cause trouble. A former town supervisor and the director of the Woodstock Youth Center, however, are among those who view such a measure as, variously, unnecessary, ill-conceived, or unlikely to solve the problems at hand.
At the request of police chief Clayton Keefe, the Town Board is considering the imposition of a curfew that would make it illegal — the charge would be disorderly conduct — for unaccompanied minors under age 17 to be present on the town’s streets and other public places from 10 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., unless they were traveling to or from a job or a school or social function. Police could detain suspected violators, whose parents or guardians would be notified immediately. The maximum punishment for a conviction would be a fine of $250 or 15 days in jail. A public hearing on the proposed curfew is scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 13 at the Community Center.
Keefe explained the rationale for his proposal in an interview. Since last summer, he said, the town has grappled with vandalism and drug and alcohol use associated with the presence of both older and younger adolescents on the streets at night. The problems include broken windows, graffiti sprayed on buildings, feces smeared on doorknobs, overturned flower pots and garbage cans, and general “criminal mischief” at Andy Lee Field and other locations in the hamlet.
Under the normal deployment, two Woodstock police officers are on duty between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., with a third officer added if necessary. Last year, Keefe noted, the level of unsavory activity often required the additional assignment of a plainclothes officer and a foot patrol officer. “The problems tied up our night patrol at the Village Green,” said the chief.
A curfew would expand the legal options available to police officers when they encounter problematic situations. “As of now,” said Keefe, “a 12-year-old can be out all night long and impaired by drugs or alcohol. Unless he does something wrong, the police can’t do anything but ask him to move along. We can’t detain him.” At Keefe’s suggestion, Woodstock is considering a curfew based on the Town of Ulster’s which reportedly has been in effect since 1980. According to Keefe, evidence suggests that the Ulster law “is working.”
“I’m not looking to prevent kids from having a good time, but young kids on the street are learning bad habits, including alcohol use, from older kids,” said Keefe. “We want to break that cycle. We had a lot of that activity on the Village Green in the 1990s. It subsided for a time, but now has come back. It is time to deal with this problem, for the kids’ safety.”
John Mower, who served as town supervisor from 1992 to 1996 and currently owns and operates an eponymous flea market in the hamlet, views a curfew as unnecessary and ill-advised. “Perceived” problems involving young people on the town’s streets at night are both cyclical and not always based in fact, he said, while acknowledging Keefe’s assertion that “issues” revolving around the Village Green were a concern in the early ‘90s, during his term as supervisor.
Mower noted that patrons of his flea market appear to be “overwhelmingly” against the proposed curfew, which “kind of came out of the blue,” with little or no warning about serious problems involving young people on the streets at night.
“We need to go after the specifics — who is causing the trouble and the nature of the trouble,” said Mower. “It is not good for Woodstock, or accurate, to paint every kid under 17 as a problem. We have enough laws to take care of mischievous kids. In the early ‘90s we put more police on the streets at night and encouraged adults to have a presence, to make themselves visible, at night. Also, the town government can use its bully pulpit to explain the problems to the public, and the police can do traffic stops — which would be for everyone, not just young people — on big party nights.”
He continued: “There are definite, legal ways of dealing with problems while protecting Woodstock’s kids. If there is a big problem with burglaries, for example, we need to publicize it and mobilize people. It is bad to broad-brush under-17 kids as responsible for all of our problems. But if a kid is brought to court by the cops, the parents should be notified that their kid is associating with the wrong people. The court needs to let the kids know that bad behavior has consequences. Don’t sweep the problem under the rug. But ninety-eight percent of kids are OK; they’re just being kids. We must go after the other two percent. You can’t let the two percent rule you.”
Linda Tiano, who with her son, Bryan Roefs, owns Catskill Mountain Pizza Company on Mill Hill Road, favors a curfew, although she suggests that midnight to 6 a.m. might be preferable to the proposed hours. Like Keefe, she points out that a curfew would authorize police officers to take stronger action with suspected troublemakers than merely asking them to move along. “It’s a good idea,” she said.
Along with other businesses on Mill Hill Road, Tiano’s restaurant was the site of a break-in last September, she said. A more chronic problem at Catskill Mountain Pizza has been up to 20 young people at a time “milling around” on the outdoor patio, smoking, drinking beer that they had illegally obtained elsewhere, and occupying seats meant for paying customers.
“I would ask them to leave because they hadn’t bought anything, or only one kid had bought pizza while the rest hadn’t and were taking up table space,” she said. “When I asked them to leave they would give me a hard time. They would return as soon as I left, and would then give my employees a hard time. After the restaurant closed, the kids would stay on the patio, smoking and making a mess. It’s not a case of vandalism, but the restaurant is not a public hangout for people to congregate and make a mess.”
The problem was especially acute in the early spring, said Tiano, when she was forced to call the police as often as three times a night, despite the adverse effects on business of frequent police visits to the premises. With the restaurant busier now, its tables are mostly occupied by customers. Many of the offending kids have decamped for the wall and parking lot outside the Wok ‘N’ Roll Café across the street, according to Tiano. “The kids need a place to hang out, but they can’t disrupt businesses,” she said.
In the view of Fern Malkine-Falvey, who since 2004 has been the director of the Woodstock Youth Center on Rock City Road, a curfew would fail to address the social and recreational needs of the town’s young people. “You have to listen to the children and their parents,” she said. “Nothing will be solved by punitive measures like curfews.”
The Youth Center, which opened in 1973, served 665 individual children in 2009: 544 youths from throughout the Onteora Central School District and 121 participants in the town’s summer recreation camp program. A youngster signs in every time he or she enters the Youth Center, which might amount to several occasions on a single day. By that measure, the 665 children served by the center in 2009 accounted for 9,371 visits or “sign-ins.” The center, which is closed on Monday, is open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday; from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday; from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday; and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Malkine-Falvey grew up in Woodstock in the 1960s; her family has resided here for six decades. “There is very little for kids to do,” she said. “Until the town invests money in options, the problems will continue. Drug and alcohol problems are nationwide and worldwide, not just in Woodstock. You have to ask the kids what they need. We raised $43,000 and built a skate park” — the park, adjacent to the Youth Center, opened in 2004 and was expanded the following year — “and I think that helped a lot. We need to offer options, especially for older kids.” One attractive option would be a gym or other spacious facility that was suitable for multiple uses, she noted.
“The Youth Center’s options are limited,” she continued. “We have no gym or swimming pool. We will try to get some arcade games. We are not a day care center or a camp; we are a drop-in center. The town has to provide more for older teenagers, who otherwise will get into trouble, like the generations before them.”
As Malkine-Falvey sees it, a curfew would be not only punitive, but also undiscriminating and thus unfair. “I’m mostly against it because it would be unfair,” she said. “It wouldn’t help the situation. The kids have nowhere to go. The parents sometimes are not home when the Youth Center closes. The Town Board must consider that there are so many different home situations with these children. Lots of parents are working two jobs and can’t do more than they are doing now. I want to hear from the kids and parents.”
Meanwhile, the Youth Center’s director does not plan to stand idly by while the town wrestles with the problems that confront it. “I’m willing to do anything I can to help,” said the native Woodstocker.++