KAUFMAN, Texas — The Kaufman County Commissioners' Court on Tuesday approved a juvenile curfew for unincorporated areas of the county.
The approval comes two weeks after the curfew was previously proposed before the commission — delayed only to receive feedback from community members and to allow for a public hearing.
Commissioners on Tuesday morning said they had received overwhelming support for the curfew with some raising concerns about legitimate activities within the hours of the proposed curfew. Those concerns, among other things, included juveniles who were returning from activities typical of a rural area such as hunting, fishing, roping, or school-related activities, which would be exempt from the ordinance with parent or guardian authorization.
In a presentation to the court earlier this month, Kaufman County Juvenile Probation Chief Laura Peace said her office had seen an increase of 81% in juvenile felony offenses over the last three years — some of which tragically ended in death.
"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, at that time.
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. Law enforcement personnel will also have discretion at the time of the offense whether or not a ticket is issued but, despite this, the parent or legal guardian will be contacted to notify them of law enforcement contact with their juvenile and possibly provide an opportunity to educate the juvenile and parent of the curfew.
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.
"Most of the cities in our county do have this," stated Peace. "Y'all have already discussed how we are being urbanized, we're not as much a rural community as we used to be. So, we do have these areas that are unincorporated but, they have the same issues that the cities faced years ago when the cities decided to implement the juvenile curfew."
"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," Kaufman County Court at Law Judge Tracy Gray said earlier this month of the rising crime rate among juveniles, attributing many of these offenses to groups of children who often feel peer pressured.
Today, Gray reiterated the point — saying she hoped the ordinance would provide law enforcement a tool to prevent children from being peer pressured into a situation that may ultimately lead to decisions that could impact their futures, impact their ability to obtain scholarships and attend college, and impact their military eligibility.
"I think the spirit of this is not to write tickets, its not to create probable cause, its to deter crime and to hope make a safe neighborhood, safer," Kaufman County Criminal District Attorney Erleigh Wiley stated.
"We're not trying to single out individuals," Beavers added. "We've got small groups that peer pressure makes them make poor choices. If we can stop it at the very first, we can crack that issue."
"We're not going out here just to write tickets," continued Beavers. "We're gonna go out here to talk to parents, build relationships with them, and get these kids back in their house and out of these peer pressure situations that makes poor choices."
During the public hearing, Heartland Community Association General Manager Dodie Slama says they support the juvenile curfew, especially as their community grows from 3,200 homes to an eventual build-out of over 6,000 homes.
"We are very much in favor of this curfew because we see the need for it and, as we grow, its only going to be more important," she said.
There was no other public comment during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Kaufman County Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Barber motioned to approve the ordinance, Precinct 2 Commissioner Skeet Phillips seconded, and the ordinance was passed with unanimous approval from the court.
See below for the complete ordinance and exemptions: