LOWELL -- City councilors want the Police Department to find ways to again enforce Lowell's curfew ordinance for juveniles, which councilors said Tuesday night could be one tool to help stem recent violence in the city, such as a series of shootings in residential neighborhoods.
Mayor Rodney Elliott, who filed the motion calling for strict enforcement of the 11 p.m. curfew for those under 17, expressed hope the enforcement of the ordinance also could help reduce crime stemming from incidents at house parties.
"When you see 10-year-olds on bicycles going from one end of the city to another at probably 11:30 at night, you know they are not going over to grandma's, they are probably running drugs," said City Councilor Rita Mercier, calling the curfew ordinance a piece of the crime-fighting puzzle.
Mercier added, "Drugs (are) leading to violence, leading to shootings, and innocent people are going to get hurt."
City Councilor Corey Belanger, a downtown business owner, said he sees young people in the downtown after midnight and "after that hour, they are up to no good."
"These youths are out there drinking, doing God knows what, and it can lead to violence," said Belanger.
The criminal penalties in the curfew ordinance the council passed initially in 1994, such as the ability to arrest a juvenile in violation, were ruled unconstitutional in 2009 by the state Supreme Judicial Court.
But councilors voted unanimously Tuesday night to have the Police Department work with the council's public-safety subcommittee and the city solicitor to examine ways to enforce the non-criminal penalties, which include a $50 fine.
Elliott said he understands the ordinance applies to public places, but he wants police to enforce it on young people outside of parties and out on the streets. He described a party near his home Sunday morning where he said there were more than 60 teenagers and underage drinking was taking place outside.
"I've spoken to many police officers these days, and they say it is on the books, we just need to be more vigilant," Elliott said of the ordinance. "Even if it is non-criminal disposition, it is something they can use to break up these parties and slow down the violence."
A conflict at a house party on Midland Street in the Highlands neighborhood late last month resulted in gunfire that left five people wounded, though police have not released the ages of the suspects.
Councilor William Samaras, a former longtime Lowell High School headmaster, said he thinks parents will be pleased if the curfew ordinance is enforced again.
"There are a lot of parents out there that will welcome this because they will talk to school principals and say, 'My child stays out all hours and I can't get them in,' " Samaras said.
Councilor James Milinazzo recommended that Police Superintendent William Taylor meet with the Chelsea police chief and nonprofits in both Chelsea and Lowell to discuss curfew issues. Milinazzo said Taylor could then bring back best practices in Chelsea, as well as possibly Springfield, to the City Council for review.
Taylor said afterward that since the court ruling in 2009, the Police Department has "not really" enforced the law based upon advice from the City Solicitor's Office.
The superintendent said he welcomed further discussion about how his department could use the ordinance to help the department.
"We will try to see if there is a workable protocol we can use going forward," Taylor said.
Police have not released any reports linking city teenagers to recent violence.
Councilors also approved Mercier's motion relative to her concern about the recent shootings.
The council has asked for a letter to be drafted that it can send to judges and the Middlesex District Attorney's Office demanding that the state law mandating incarceration for one year for violating the state gun law be enforced.
Belanger said he would like the letter sent to Gov. Deval Patrick as well.
"Let's lead the charge to say, 'enough is enough,' " said City Councilor John Leahy.
The City Council concluded the meeting by voting to go into a closed-door session, with one purpose being to discuss "the deployment of security personnel and strategies relating to their deployment as the result of recent criminal activity."
Taylor and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan attended the private session. The council was also slated to discuss ongoing litigation, including the cases of two former library assistants who have filed legal claims against the city.
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