US city places curfew on children in a bid to cut crime

A curfew will now be imposed on children and young people in Baltimore. Photo: ITV News

It's a mild night by Baltimore standards and even though there are fewer teenagers on the streets than usual, it still looks like a menacing place.

The streets of the Maryland city - which were home to the TV series The Wire - are plagued with street crime and violence.

The murder rate is coming down but there were still 235 homicides last year. Police cameras have also captured a "flash mob" robbery in progress, in which dozens of teenagers all storm a convenience store at once and attack the staff.

So the Mayor of Baltimore has approved a tough new curfew to replace the current one which kicks in at 11 o'cock in the evening.

The new curfew requires all children under 14 to be at home by 9pm while those aged 14-16 by 10pm. It's the toughest we've been able to find anywhere in the United States.

A flash mob attack a Baltimore shop. Credit: ITV News

Melissa Bagley who campaigns for a group called Mothers of Murdered Sons told us she has been to 16 funerals in the last 4 weeks. All were under 25, all were killed on the streets of Baltimore.

She will support the curfew because it's the law. But she is not convinced it will work. Parents, she told us, "need support, not law enforcement."

It raises the question: is it the police's job to ensure children are at home at night, or the parents? It's a point echoed by a foster parent we met in the city's district which shares a name with a very expensive suburb of London: Pimlico.

Kinji Scott told us so many parents "are failing to be parents." But when the family is not there for these teenagers, the city does have to step in. The fines start at a modest $30 and grow to a much more severe $500.

When we stopped to speak to Annie Campbell sitting on her porch just around the corner, she asked us why those who can't afford to pay will be facing the fines: "we're just poor black people trying to make it everyday."

A police car cruises the streets of Baltimore. Credit: ITV News

The Baltimore councillor who drew up the new curfew took us around the streets in his car. He told us it is not designed to fine and to penalise but to reach those children who need to be reached by social services.

"It's not about reducing youth crime," he says, "but when kids are out that late - be it summer or winter - you know there is more going on with that family."

There will be many US cities watching Baltimore's experiment. No one can be sure that it will work. But here, they are sure they need to do something. The curfew starts on August 8.