By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
With summer on the scene and school has let out, school-age children will have a lot more time on their hands - and some of those children may not have enough help filling that time with constructive activities.
Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano
City of Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano and his officers will spend more of their efforts dealing with the effects of that extra time school children, and teenagers in particular, have available.
"We tend to get busy when school lets out, we get a lot more of the youth-annoying type of complaints. We'll start to see an increase in vehicle entries. We'll start to see an increase in kids getting together in groups and starting trouble, or maybe fighting with each other, things of that sort. We'll start to see an increase in kids being out on the street late at night," he stated. "We do change a little in how we do business in the summertime. We do have a curfew law we enforce."
That law is in the City Code and states in part that it shall be unlawful for any minor under the age of 17 to remain in any public place from midnight to 6 a.m. Some public places are off limits to everyone. Washington Park's off-limit hours are 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. while Point Gratiot is closed to everyone from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. Other city parks are closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Section 20-4 of the City Code contains the exceptions to the curfew rules, including if the under-17 juvenile is accompanied by a parent or guardian or someone at least 21 years old who is authorized in writing to accompany the juvenile for a designated period of time and purpose within a specific area.
A juvenile under 17 is also permitted to be out after curfew hours when returning home from a school-sponsored activity, a religious or civic-associated activity, or when coming directly home from a job.
There are two other exemptions to the curfew law. One involves the exercise of First Amendment rights provided prior notice has been given to the police chief. The other states a juvenile can be on the property of, or the sidewalk directly adjacent to the building they reside in or buildings immediately adjacent to the residence until 12:30 a.m., if the owner of the building does not object.
Chapter 20 of the City Code also covers the parents or guardians of minors and their responsibility.
"It shall be unlawful for the parents or guardian of any minor under the age of seventeen (17) years knowingly or negligently by insufficient control to allow such minor to congregate, loiter, wander or play in or upon any public place including but not limited to, public streets, playgrounds, buildings, vacant lots, or any other place open to the public in the City," it states in part. The hours of parental or guardian responsibility are the same as the hours limiting minors whereabouts.
"We can arrest them if they are 16. Under 16, we work well with (City Court) Judge (Walter) Drag. We give them a warning the first time and the second time the judge will entertain a charge against the parent for failing to obey the curfew law, as long as they were warned," Ortolano explained. "We do pick them up. We will document the parent was warned. In most cases, which I prefer, is make the parent come down here and get them. I'm not going to deliver them to the house because if their child is out when they shouldn't be I think it's their responsibility to come and get them."
Increased vehicle entries are also a problem, both in Dunkirk and elsewhere, according to the chief. Ortolano said people should lock the doors, something the people who police catch reinforce.
"When you talk to these bad guys who are out there doing this, the first thing they tell us is the majority of what they get into, they're jiggling door handles and the cars aren't locked. The majority of time they're not going to stand around and forcefully try to get into a vehicle unless there's a $3,000 laptop sitting in there that they want, which brings me to my second point," he stated. "Don't leave laptops, don't leave GPS (devices), don't leave your cell phones, don't leave a $5 bill or a cup full of change in plain view. That's just going to urge someone more to get into your car. Keep them locked, keep your valuables out of sight."
As always, the chief requested the community's help.
"If someone sees something, or sees kids riding up and down on bikes late at night with backpacks on or they look suspicious, something's going on, call us. Call us right away," he stated.
The Dunkirk Police Department can be reached at 366-2266 or by calling the confidential tip line at 363-0313.
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