Despite Expanded Summer Youth Curfew, Roanoke Police Issued No Citations, Chief Says

Council advocated for an expanded curfew this summer to prevent youth from being the victims or offenders of gun violence.

Jerry Stokes, the city’s interim police chief, told City Council this week that there was no evidence an expanded youth curfew affected juvenile crime. Above, Stokes speaks Tuesday, Sept. 19 to the city's Gun Violence Prevention Commission. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Roanoke police did not cite any youth this summer for violating curfew after City Council had taken pains to expand its reach.

Jerry Stokes, the city’s interim police chief, told Council Monday that officers simply did not come into contact with teenagers and children in scenarios where it made sense to cite them for violating curfew.

“Based on our analysis and the data collected, there is no evidence to indicate that the expanded curfew had either a positive or negative effect on crime involving juveniles over the summer,” Stokes’s report said.

Council members advocated for the expanded curfew this summer because they said it could prevent youth from being the victims or offenders of gun violence.

The city held two community meetings in March about the idea, which elicited a lackluster turnout and public response. Of 13 speakers who expressed a clear position on curfew, only one was receptive to its enforcement.

Mayor Sherman Lea advocated for a stricter curfew, among other ideas to curb gun violence, after a New Year’s Eve shooting hurt two juveniles in the Melrose area.

The city has long had a youth curfew on the books; the law says youth 16 and under can’t be out after 11 p.m., or until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Curfew ends at 5 a.m. on all days.

At one point, Lea expressed confusion about whether the city already had a curfew law in place. In May, Council directed City Manager Bob Cowell to see what could be done to expand or enforce the curfew.

Just before school let out in early June, Council voted to restrict those 13 and under from being out after 10 p.m., or until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The new provision expired at the end of August.

Stokes said it took the police department until July 1 to be in a position to use the expanded curfew tool, because of training and communications with the courts. Stokes became interim police chief on that date after former chief Sam Roman was promoted to assistant city manager.

“I was not here in 2022. I think, you know, Council had some concerns about juvenile crime during that period, which kind of led you into considering the curfew, lots of discussion about enacting that,” Stokes said.

But the interim chief said more of this year’s gun violence has resulted between adults.

‘The curfew wasn't as usable, per se, for the police department during the period that it was enacted,” he said.

Shootings over the weekend brought the number of homicides in Roanoke to 26, the most in any year going back to the 1970s, the chief said during a Monday press conference.

Police believe most of the killings were a result of disagreements among people who knew each other, rather than random events or gang-related shootings.

Police need apparent evidence that someone is committing a crime before stopping them, Stokes said, a limitation to enforcing the youth curfew.

“To see somebody walking down the street, you think they’re somewhere between 15 and 18, that’s not reasonable, probably, for an officer to be interacting with them,” Stokes said. “So we may have encountered folks, or seen them out, but we just don’t know that they were violating the curfew.”

Phazhon Nash, a member of Roanoke Young Democrats, which protested the curfew, described it as an ineffective tool to reduce gun violence. But he said he empathized with the mayor and members of Council who voted for the expansion.

“I fully understand and share their desire to reduce the number of young people lost to gun violence each year,” he said in a text. “I believe it would have been more beneficial and effective to put the time we wasted discussing the ineffective youth curfew towards engaging with schools and parents to increase participation in the various youth mentorship programs we had over the summer.”

During the curfew update Monday, city officials also highlighted new initiatives over the summer to engage youth, which included mentorship to eight young people referred by the courts. Some Council members expressed disappointment that parents and school officials did not connect more youth to the mentorship programs.

Since crime trends shift, Stokes said the city could consider expanding the curfew again.

“Maybe we do want that tool available to us in the future should, again, there be a shift where there's lots of juveniles involved in incidents,” he said.

City Manager Bob Cowell said Council could revisit the matter next summer under new police leadership.

Scott Booth, the police chief of Danville, will become Roanoke’s next chief on October 31. He will be paid $200,000 annually, according to a city spokeswoman.

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