KAUFMAN COUNTY, Texas — Over the last three years, Kaufman County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Laura Peace and her office has seen an increase of 81% in juvenile felony offenses — some of which tragically ended in death.
Peace was among county law enforcement and judicial officials on Tuesday morning who presented an order to the Kaufman County Commissioners' Court to establish a juvenile curfew in the unincorporated areas of Kaufman County.
Juvenile curfews aren't new to Kaufman County. In fact, a majority of the incorporated cities already have ordinances on their books establishing a juvenile curfew, according to Tuesday's discussion. But, as Peace notes, with booming population growth in the northern part of the county, her office has seen skyrocketing felony referrals.
"Felony referrals are skyrocketing and, if we can stop these kids when they're loitering at night, then we can stop that next felony from happening," Peace said.
Violations of the proposed curfew are a class C misdemeanor, a ticket-able offense. First violations would incur, with judicial discretion, a $100 fine while second and subsequent offense could incur fines not to exceed $500.
The proposed order would implement a juvenile curfew from midnight until 6 a.m. during the summer months, while minors are not enrolled in school, and from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. while school is in session. The order allows exceptions for, among other things, minors in the company of their parent or guardian, on an errand authorized by their parent or guardian, school-related activities, legal employment activity, and emergencies.
Officials presenting Tuesday say the order will not only give deputies a new tool to make contact during the curfew hours, to potentially deter criminal activity but, will also give some parents who may need additional guidance a leg to stand on in parenting their children.
Kaufman County Court at Law Judge Tracy Gray says her court has also seen an increase in juvenile detention hearings for car thefts, burglaries, and gun-related offenses.
"If we can stop these kids from being outside before they steal the car, break into the car, take the gun, then, I think the number of violent crimes will go down," she said, attributing many of these offenses to groups of children who often feel peer pressured.
"We are not trying to arrest juveniles, we are not trying to arrest children, but we are gonna start notifying parents if their children are out after midnight," Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley told commissioners.
In the last year and a half, Wiley says, some of the juvenile-related offenses have ended tragically, in death.
"This gives us a tool we might actually not only protect our property, that's important, but we might actually be able to save a couple kids," she said.
"We are serious with zero tolerance. We have antidotely seen a change," stated Wiley. "And I commend the sheriff and the constables in the northern part of the county."
"We are not going to have violence committed in Kaufman County by anyone we can stop and we know this is going to change the dynamics of juvenile crime," she continued. "As far as we're concerned, they can move back west but, it's not going to happen here."
And while the curfew may mean extra duties for deputies, more referrals in the juvenile probation office, and potentially more cases filed with the District Attorney's Office, the chiefs of all say they are willing to take it on to combat the rising juvenile crime rate.
The Commissioners' Court, while stating there would likely be overwhelming support of the order from the community and citing a want for more public input and public education, tabled the order until their July 20th meeting to allow for additional public comment.