The Prairie du Sac Village Board is examining the possibility of altering or removing the village’s curfew law.
Board member Abby Howell-Dinger expressed interest in repealing the ordinance during Tuesday’s board meeting, while Sauk Prairie Police Chief Jerry Strunz also joined virtually to express why the police department believes the curfew law is beneficial.
The police department wants to change Prairie du Sac’s ordinance to match Sauk City’s, which leaves discretion to the officer on whether or not to issue a ticket on first offense. The item will be on the action agenda at the Aug. 11 village board meeting. Strunz said that the Village of Prairie du Sac has only given out three curfew citations in the last five years, but believes “it’s a valid ordinance to allow the officers to do good work in the community.”
The Prairie du Sac ordinance currently reads, in part, “It shall be unlawful for any person seventeen (17) years of age or under to be on foot, bicycle or in any type of vehicle on any public street, avenue, highway, road, alley, park, school grounds, swimming beach, cemetery, playground, public building or any other public place in the Village of Prairie du Sac between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., except Friday and Saturday when the hours shall be 12:00 a.m. (midnight) to 4:00 a.m., unless accompanied by his or her parent or guardian, or person having lawful custody and control of his or her person, or unless there exists a reasonable necessity therefore.”
Exceptions are made for children performing an errand as directed by a parent, guardian or person having lawful custody; children on their own premises; children whose employment makes it necessary to be out during such hours; and children returning home from a supervised school, church or civic function.
“Typically curfew is something that officers use as a preventative type measure,” Strunz said Tuesday. “We’ve had a huge increase in thefts of autos, and the areas all around us have seen a large increase in burglaries. We haven’t been completely immune to that either — we’ve had a number of residential burglaries where individuals entered vehicles and used garage door openers to enter the home.
“That’s a pattern of conduct that’s increasingly concerning, and that’s where the curfew ordinance really comes into play a lot of times. When we see younger individuals out and about in neighborhoods, it gives officers legal grounds to make contact and to identify what the individual’s purpose for being out and about at those hours of the evening might be.
“There are times that juveniles are out and about for valid reasons. There might be a problem at their home that they’re trying to get away from... it might be a situation where it’s a troubled youth that has wandered away from home for awhile and it gives officers an opportunity to try to intervene and redirect the individual.”
Howell-Dinger believes that the the curfew law could be repealed due to the rarity of a citation and potential issues it could cause.
“As much as I’m sure our police officers are all good people with good intentions, we all have implicit biases, and those are very difficult to ignore,” Howell-Dinger said. “I’m still concerned that this could have a negative effect on youth of color in our community. And we’ve had three citations in five years, so it sounds to me like we aren’t utilizing this ordinance a lot, so I don’t really see a need to have it.
“I don’t believe that our police officers are bad people, but I believe we all have biases that influence our decision-making on the spot.”
Other board members are in favor of adjusting the ordinance to ensure a first-time citation is up to officer discretion.
“We need to be aware of biases, but just because of that I don’t think we can take away tools that allow our officers to do their job,” board member Lauri Meixelsperger said. “There’s still crime going on. I think with the ordinance, the suggestion is that it allows the officer the ability to actually not issue a ticket the first time. ... For those reasons I’m in favor of the change to the ordinance.”
“I think there’s a lot of bias or prejudice in our society,” board member Craig Bender said. “This is only one small issue compared to a much bigger problem. ... It doesn’t look to me like it’s being used, but if it’s a useful tool, I don’t see why we’d take the tool away.”
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