September 18, 2013 - It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
That's a question Oxford Township parents might have to answer should a proposed curfew ordinance be approved by the township board.
A first reading of the proposed curfew ordinance is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St., second floor).
Curfew hours would be from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and apply to minors under the age of 17.
During that time, it would be unlawful for youth to "loiter, idle, wander, stroll, frequent, travel in or upon a motor vehicle, watercraft, or otherwise be or remain in or upon any of the public sidewalks, streets, alleys, parks or public buildings or places of amusement or entertainment or other public grounds or places" within the township.
The proposed curfew wouldn't apply to minors accompanied by a parent, guardian, custodian or authorized adult.
There would also be exceptions for minors who are performing "an errand or duty directed by" a parent, guardian or custodian; minors who are "returning directly home from a school or church function or entertainment;" and minors whose employment "makes it necessary to be upon the streets, alleys or other public places during the prohibited hours."
Those who violate the proposed ordinance would be guilty of a municipal civil infraction, not a criminal offense, and subject to a fine of between $9 and $500.
The township does not currently have a curfew ordinance. The village has had one on the books since 2005.
It was Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford substation, who recommended the implementation of a curfew ordinance
"Young people don't make good decisions at nighttime, trust me," he said.
Patterson sees this proposed ordinance as a way to give his officers an enforcement tool when dealing with youth-related situations. It would enable officers to make curfew violators go home, taking them off the streets where problems can occur.
"When you're a law enforcement officer, if you don't have a law on the books to enforce, then you're just going there to do what? Warn somebody?" Patterson said.
"Where in the township are we having a problem with teenagers hanging out, causing problems (and) breaking some kind of a law?" asked Trustee Sue Bellairs.
"It could come up periodically," Patterson said.
Bellairs wanted specific examples of locations in the township where the activities and behavior of young people have been an issue.
"It could be anywhere," Patterson said.
"It could be. I realize that," Bellairs responded. "I'm asking you, as the substation commander, where in the township are we having a problem that you see a need for this?"
"As I stated, anywhere. It could come up anywhere," Patterson said. "If we're dispatched to take a complaint from a citizen, it could come up in a subdivision, it could come up in the trailer park, it could come up anywhere."
"I guess I'm just not seeing what the kids (are) doing that's causing a problem," Bellairs said.
Bellairs said she understands the village having a curfew ordinance because of youth loitering around the movie theater downtown or on the sidewalks in front of buildings.
"But I don't understand why we in the township would adopt this," she said. "I guess I don't get it. If we were having a problem, I could get it. But I don't see what that is."
Trustee Jack Curtis disagreed.
As an example, he cited a July 2011 act of vandalism at the Koenig Sand & Gravel property along Lakeville Rd. Vehicles belonging to Acton Trucking had their windows smashed, headlights and taillights broken and exterior windows destroyed. The vandal(s) caused an estimated $6,000 in damage.
Koenig's office facility was also severely damaged. All of the building's windows, approximately 12 of them, were smashed and a fire extinguisher was discharged throughout the interior.
Supervisor Bill Dunn cited an incident at Stony Lake Township Park where someone broke in and "ruined all the bathrooms."
Curtis said right now, when officers see kids on the street at night, they have no reason to approach them to find out what they're doing. If there was a curfew in place, it would give them a reason.
Attorney Dan Kelly, who handles the township's prosecutions and drafted the curfew ordinance, noted that "legally, (police officers) do need probable cause" to stop and question people.
Having a curfew would give officers "more flexibility" and "some leeway" to stop and question minors in cases where they're suspicious, but there's no probable cause, he said.
"Most of the time, police officers use these type of offenses . . . as a tool, as something that they use within their discretion on the street," Kelly said.
But Bellairs believes that discretion could be abused.
"I don't go buy a saw if I'm not going to cut any wood up. That's where I'm coming from," she said. "I've seen these kind of things go south real quickly and then they become problems."
In addition to the proposed curfew ordinance, the township board also set first readings at the Oct. 9 meeting for proposed ordinances concerning domestic assault and adopting the Michigan Vehicle Code.
Right now, domestic assault offenses and violations of the Michigan Vehicle Code are charged under state law. If they were charged under a local ordinance, the township would be able to recoup more revenue from the fines.
"The penalties are very much the same, however, the majority of the fines would come directly to the township (under a local ordinance) as opposed to a state violation (where the fines are) split up several different ways," Kelly explained.
Dunn said he and Treasurer Joe Ferrari have reviewed how much the township is spending on prosecutions versus how much is being recouped through fines. "It's heavier on the prosecution side," Dunn said.
Charging these offenses under local ordinances as opposed to state law would help "balance" the prosecution expenditures and fine-based revenues, so it becomes more of a break-even proposition, Dunn explained.
"It's not like you're creating a new law or a new infraction. The tickets are being issued (now)," Kelly noted. "Unfortunately, they're being issued under a different law where the revenues go to five different places rather than the bulk of it coming to the township.
"You're paying for the law enforcement. You're paying for the prosecution. You should get the bulk of the fines and costs."
Kelly speculated that the township probably has a "handful" of domestic assault cases now each month.
"Just from those charges alone, you probably are going to generate somewhere between $500 to $1,000 more per month in the revenues from tickets," he said.
"That would close the (prosecution cost) gaps," said Dunn, who noted that Kelly drafted all three of these proposed ordinances at no cost to the township.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.