Inquirer Editorial: Need cops, not curfews

Posted: April 02, 2011

An effort to set a curfew on late-night businesses in Camden is the wrong approach to fight crime in the city.

Pushed by Mayor Dana L. Redd, the proposal would force most retail outlets to close at 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnights on weekends.

Currently, there are no restrictions and some businesses, such as Chinese-food takeouts and fried-chicken eateries, are open 24-hours or at least until the early-morning hours.

City officials contend there is a strong correlation between crime and late-night businesses, but they have not provided any data to support their case.

Camden, though, has been ranked among the most dangerous cities in the nation.

Critics of the proposed curfew make a strong argument that crime is a policing matter in the 9-square-mile city, not a retail problem. The curfew would harm businesses that legally cater to after-hours customers.

Camden police have been short-staffed since the city laid off 163 officers in January. Their reduced ranks have understandably sparked new crime fears.

But rather than target legitimate businesses, the city should do more to crack down on the thugs and criminals that late-night establishments attract as convenient places to buy and sell drugs. Laws against those crimes are already on the books; deploy the police available to use them.

This is the third attempt in 13 years to impose a business curfew in Camden. City officials believe this time will be the charm, but that may not be the case.

Similar measures adopted in 1998 and 2006 were tossed out after successful court challenges. One ordinance was deemed arbitrary and unreasonable; the other had technical flaws.

A final vote by City Council is expected April 12. Another legal challenge is almost certain.

As with other measures that were blocked, there are fundamental problems with the latest measure, an amendment to an existing ordinance that would affect almost all retail outlets, including clothing stores and restaurants.

But the measure would exempt some businesses, including those with liquor licenses, drive-up windows, or parking lots. Isn't it likely that drug dealers will move to those establishments, if they aren't already there?

Also excluded are taverns, drug stores, theaters, and cultural and educational places.

Another weakness of the proposal is that it doesn't include fines or penalties, meaning it lacks teeth or an incentive for businesses to comply.

Camden has a serious crime problem. But making it unlawful for businesses to stay open after hours is not the answer. It takes a strong police presence to keep criminals from coming out at night like the vampires they are.

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