Starting next year Columbia Falls youth will have to be home by 11 p.m.
The City Council Monday voted to reinstate a curfew ordinance. Under the curfew, those under the age of 18 are prohibited from being in public places between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The council heard no comments on the issue from the public. The council still discussed the ordinance before approving it.
Councilwoman Julie Plevel expressed some hesitation in passing the curfew.
“The more I think about this, the more I wonder why we’re doing this,” she said.
She asked if the police department had the staff to handle enforcing the curfew.
Police Chief Dave Perry said the department is equipped to deal with the curfew.
“It’s a public safety issue. What legitimate reason does a kid have to be out past 11 p.m.?” he said. “We’ve noticed a lot of kids running around ungoverned.”
Perry said that officers wouldn’t be searching for children out after the curfew, rather the ordinance would give officers the ability to contact parents if the child is found.
The ordinance does allow for children to be out past the curfew, if accompanied by an adult. Children are also allowed to be out if attending religious or school activities and if they are traveling to or from such events.
“They can go to and from a legitimate purpose,” Perry said. “They can’t be hanging out standing in front of Town Pump at 11 p.m.”
Officers can’t stop those driving vehicles solely for violating the curfew, he noted. Only children who are walking, riding a bicycle or similar will be stopped by officers.
Councilman Doug Karper said he understands the hesitation, but also the importance of the curfew.
“If you use it with discretion you’re not going to have the police looking for kids,” he said. “It gives you the ability to get a kid off the street that doesn’t need to be there at 2 or 3 a.m.”
Councilman Mike Shepard pointed to a number of car break-ins that occurred recently after midnight on Crescent Drive. Teenagers are mostly likely the ones who did the break-ins. He said he frequently see teens out in the middle of the night in his neighborhood.
A first violation of the curfew will result in police contacting the child’s parents. On the second offense, the child is sent to youth court.
The council passed the ordinance unanimously. Councilman Dave Petersen was absent from the meeting.
The city will not sound the fire siren to signal the curfew. In the past the siren was set off to coincide with the curfew time. The city last had a curfew about two years ago.
The council is expected to approve a second reading of the ordinance in January. Thirty days after that approval, the ordinance will go into effect.
In other action, the council:
• Rejected a change in the city zoning text to delete references to the clear vision triangle, the triangular-shaped areas on corner lots that must remain open to maintain visibility at intersections. The city plans to revamp the text language to require the city to respond only to complaints about blocked corners.
• Voted to approve the final plat for the minor subdivision Glacier Village Recreation Center.
• Approved an application from Steve Hughes to serve on the City-County Planning Board. The city will forward Hughes’ name onto the Flathead County Commissioners for final approval for a seat on the planning board.