San Diego police have arrested hundreds of kids in recent years by conducting regular curfew sweeps in the city’s urban core.
The sweeps have been widely publicized since their inception. What hasn’t received much attention is the decreased use of curfew enforcement almost everywhere else. While arrests have climbed in San Diego, they’ve fallen substantially across the state and nation.
I discovered that contrast last month while working on an in-depth story about the impact of the sweeps on crime. Our story questioned whether sweeps are indeed related to a recent decline in crime. Police here are effectively arresting hundreds of kids on an unproven hunch.
I mentioned the statewide comparison briefly in my story but thought it deserved revisiting. The graphic above illustrates how many kids were arrested for violating curfew laws across the state and in San Diego.
In 2007, about one in every 20 kids in the state was booked in San Diego — a proportional amount to the city’s population. Just three years later, the gap narrowed to about one in five.
While law enforcement agencies statewide arrested significantly fewer kids, San Diego police doubled down. This contrast helps illuminate the unique direction of San Diego’s program. Police here are pushing a crime fighting tactic as many agencies are stopping or cutting back.
The program’s proponents here argue the sweeps have reduced crime by removing kids from a dangerous environment. They say children are less likely to become victims or perpetrators of crime when they’re not out on the streets.
But our analysis of crime trends questioned whether that’s true. In the past five years, places without the sweeps have reported equal or greater drops in crime than those with them.
It’s still unclear why law enforcement agencies across the state have reduced curfew arrests, though several criminologists suggested it may be related to funding. Hit by the economic decline, agencies across the state have cut their budgets or shifted resources in recent years.
But those same pressures have also stretched San Diego. Department spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said police once had three or four officers who specialized in juvenile crime at each police division, and now have one or two. As the department’s budget shrank, other functions like patrol took priority.
When asked about the statewide comparison, Asst. Police Chief Boyd Long said the number of arrests shows increased curfew enforcement has remained a major priority in San Diego despite budget cuts.
“In the end, if we can save a life and have someone not become a victim then we can say we’re way ahead,” Long said. “I think we have a duty as law enforcement and an obligation to make sure they’re in a safe environment.”
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