It’s just after midnight, a misty Tuesday morning on the streets of our fair city. Lamppost lights flicker and a horn blares in the distance, only to be silenced a few moments later as though someone’s hit the snooze button on a town-wide alarm.
Hard to believe that here, in this haven of peaceful suburbia, it’s even necessary to impose a time regulation upon teenagers who go out at night — however, that’s the truth of the matter.
In order to curb both latenight juvenile-committed crimes and crimes committed against juveniles, Palo Alto has a curfew of 1 a.m. on weekends and 11 p.m. on weekdays for minors. This has been in effect for almost two decades now, according to an article on Palo Alto Online dated July 20, 1994.
The curfew is occasionally mentioned and often ridiculed, but rarely discussed in earnest around these parts. Some students aren’t even aware of its existence. Some know about it and simply can’t bring themselves to care. All in all, most students aren’t particularly concerned.
This lack of stringency combined with the fact that it hasn’t been revised in 19 years makes the Palo Alto curfew even more elusive and mysterious.
Does this lack of modification mean the curfew’s doing its job effectively? Does it really obstruct young hooligans from traversing Palo Alto in the middle of the cold dark night?
“The curfew has no effect on what people do whatsoever,” sophomore Alex Murray says. “People still go out at night regardless [of the curfew].”
Indeed, a Verde-conducted survey of nearly 100 Palo Alto kids about whether they adhere to the curfew indicates that less than 10 percent of students actively obey it. The remaining students are split between not complying and not knowing about it at all. 45 percent of those surveyed selected the multiple choice option “There’s a curfew?,” confirming that for all the students who defy it, there are just as many who have no idea what it is.
More than half of those surveyed also had a somewhat skewed meaning attributed to the Palo Alto curfew; only 43.5 percent believe it requires being inside a house by the designated time, as is the intended effect.
In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter much what kids are doing so long as they’re not in immediate danger. Palo Alto Police Chief Dennis Burns clarifies that the curfew is first and foremost a safety measure.
“The goal would never be to arrest anybody for being out late…that [they] were safe would be our greatest concern,” Burns says.
This might sound familiar to Palo Alto minors who have been caught out after hours but let off with a warning or a call home. According to Burns, police officers rarely take students into custody, so long as they have a destination in mind.
“If you’re en route from your friend’s house to another friend’s house, we certainly wouldn’t stop you for anything like that. It’s really just to ensure that everybody’s safe and not in harm’s way,” Burns says.
And in actuality, minors who do not acknowledge the curfew are not Palo Alto’s biggest after-hours problem. With underage drinking and illegal drug use abound — not to mention the fact that Yogurtland closes way too early on weeknights — the curfew is hardly a top priority. Unless it becomes more strictly enforced or its specifications change, it would appear that the general sentiment toward the Palo Alto curfew will remain one of disdain and disinterest for quite awhile.