published Thursday, March 31st, 2011

City will detain Coolidge curfew violators

  • photo
    Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd, right, listens as Greta Hayes, city of Chattanooga director of recreation, talks about holding teens at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center on 40th Street. Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Teens picked up for violating Chattanooga’s new Coolidge Park curfew might actually prefer where they end up.

Curfew violators ages 13 to 17 will be taken to the former police precinct attached to the South Chattanooga Recreation Center in St. Elmo, which will be fitted out with TV’s, video games and computers, plus snacks, showers and beds.

Once there, though, they’ll have to listen to information about the consequences of future violations, such as referral to juvenile court. And if they’re left longer than eight hours, their parents could face child-neglect charges.

But the center staff, made up of Chattanooga police, Parks and Recreation officials and YMCA employees, hopes getting to know the teens informally will help persuade them to stay out of Coolidge Park after hours and use the city’s network of recreation centers.

“The reality is I can learn a whole lot more about a kid if I’m sitting down playing checkers with him than I can if I’m sitting in an office taking down notes,” said Joe Smith, regional YMCA Community Action director. “This is not designed to be punitive. What it’s designed to do is to uncover needs, and of course to protect that child and protect the other citizens in the park.”

On Tuesday, the City Council passed an ordinance banning minors in the park between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless they’re accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or adult over 21.

The council was reacting to an incident March 19 when shots were fired while police were dispersing a crowd of about 300 youths.

A similar incident occurred in March 2010, but in that case, five people were shot, but none seriously injured.

The center in St. Elmo is meant to be an early-intervention program for teens.

The center will be open only when police detain youths violating the curfew. Parents will be contacted and the teens will be held until an adult picks them up.

Although Smith expects the teens’ guardians will often show up within a few hours, the cots, food and showers will be available to those who require a longer stay and whose parents may face charges.

“Once you take a couple of parents and stick them out on the highway, picking up trash for a couple days, they might be worried about where junior’s at,” Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said.

Children 12 and under will be referred to child services if they’re picked up, and their parents could be charged with child neglect.

Teens won’t face formal charges for ordinance violations, but will be referred to Juvenile Court, where their parents could be fined $50.

The center’s workers plan to counsel violators and their parents before things get bad.

“You don’t want to make them feel like they’re criminals because that might make them feel like they could do something. It’s that self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Jim Williams, a recreation center regular who lives in the area.

City officials estimate it will cost about $6,000 to install security cameras, door locks, cots and other equipment in the detention area.

Dodd said there will be other costs associated with the program, but some would be offshoots of already-established programs. For example, food will likely be provided by a program that gives lunches to Parks and Recreation facilities’ users.

“It’s not going to be a Hilton, but it’s not going to be a jail, either,” Dodd said.

To enforce the curfew, police are doubling their patrols in Coolidge Park, using overtime as the force increases from five to 10 officers. Dodd said the force will be scaled back as Chattanoogans get used to the new ordinance.

RoseMary Porter is president of the Villages at Alton Park Neighborhood Watch and chairwoman of the area’s Leadership Advisory Council. She said there are shootings in other parts of the city that police also should be worried about.

“They’re just geared towards certain areas in the city, depending on who lives there and the businesses, and they’re not concerned about our area,” she said.

With a Police Services Center and Juvenile Court already in Chattanooga, Porter said ordinance violators should be taken to those facilities rather than a new center.

“Why open up a new building and spend the $6,000 when you can take them to a facility that already exists?” Porter asked. “Why would they even think to put a detention center right next to a recreation center?”

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midnitewatchman said...

This is a disaster waiting to happen, this is a bad idea!

March 31, 2011 at 6:50 a.m.
lcoffey1 said...

I think it is a great idea. You may find over a period of time if ran properly the crime rate in Chattanooga will in fact go down. You cannot criminalize everything people do in particular kids.

March 31, 2011 at 7:25 a.m.
mrredskin said...

really? Really?!?

take them to "detention", where they will then be able to have fun. are these tvs and video game systems being donated or is this just another cost to tax payers?

how long before half the crap at the detention center is stolen or broken?

March 31, 2011 at 7:48 a.m.
holdout said...

There is no one answer but this sounds like a good idea. There are going to have to be efforts made on many fronts and this will help.

March 31, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.
ceeweed said...

All commenting on this plan have reasonable concerns, weather they see the glass as half full or half empty. Are these plans half-baked or are they inspired? I too believe these restrictions placed on minors will not hold up in court. If parents are out of the loop in their own kid's lives, I do not see how this action is going to fix what is fundamentally a family problem.

Minors do have rights. I think that all parties concerned will be told by the courts to rethink this in its entirety.

March 31, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
midnitewatchman said...

If Juvenile Court would do their job, we would not be having this disussion. Juvenile court is the first place aspiring criminals come face to face with the legal system. Its becoming obvious of their impression.

March 31, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
chatttn said...

A lot of these problems aren't related to kids at all. These are seasoned career ADULT criminals. Also, Coolidge Park isn't the only area that needs attention. Gangs will only "relocate" to another part of town to make yet another area dangerous. There has got to be a better answer. But, I've got to give the city a little credit -- at least this IS a start. It will either make the city a hero or a zero. Leaning toward zero but hope to heck I'm wrong!

March 31, 2011 at 10 a.m.
dave said...

This will only move the gunfire to another location...most likely the detention facility.

March 31, 2011 at 11:17 a.m.
sangaree said...

I applaud the mayor and Chief Dodds in their progressive thinking. Rather than continue to build prisons for younger and younger people they, at least, are trying something different. Where others wanted immediate arrests and introductory into the juvenile justice system, they came up with something better.

Once young people enter the juvenile justice system, it becomse almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that they will become adult prisoners. There's no real rehabiitation in the penal system, be it juvenile or adult prisons.

My concern is there are those who want this decision too to fail. That's where the breakdown will be. Someone throwing a wrench in this too.

I also continue to believe that some of these "incidents" were staged. Either to use as an excuse to keep certain individuals out of Coolidge Park, to wrangle more money from the city or job security. But at least two out of three backfired, so far.

March 31, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.
acerigger said...

Lib4free, you were only a teenager for 5 year? Does that have anything to do with your arrested development?

March 31, 2011 at 5:49 p.m.
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