Hancock curfew closer to reality

NEW CUMBERLAND – Hancock County commissioners are getting closer to instituting a curfew for minors in the unincorporated parts of the county, including Newell and New Manchester.

Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said at Thursday’s regular meeting that he’s been researching the idea of a “youth protection ordinance” and may soon have a draft copy ready for review by Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher and the Hancock County magistrates.

The idea of a countywide curfew for residents under the age of 18 gained new urgency after it was discussed at a Newell community meeting on Feb. 5.

That meeting was called by the Newell Community Improvement Coalition for residents to air their concerns about a rash of recent home burglaries and car break-ins in the community. Some residents who spoke up at the meeting said unsupervised juveniles were responsible for the break-ins.

Speaking to residents that night, Fletcher said he’s “all for” curfews, but that he didn’t know if commissioners have the authority to institute one that’s countywide.

Since then, Swartzmiller has taken the lead on researching the possibility. On Thursday, he said he’ll have something ready for commissioners to consider soon.

Swartzmiller said he researched the city of Charleston’s youth curfew, which survived a legal challenge in the late 1990s. The case, brought by three George Washington High School students, went all the way to the West Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled 4-1 in 2000 that the curfew was constitutional.

“What better one to model ours after than one that’s been upheld by the Supreme Court,” Swartzmiller said.

The Charleston curfew prohibits minors from being out between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends. It allows exceptions for teens being out with their parents’ permission or for a school-related, cultural or religious function.

Swartzmiller said he remembers Hancock County having a curfew when he was younger – one in which a siren blew at 10 p.m. on weekdays.

“There shouldn’t be 12-year-olds running around at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Swartzmiller said during a similar discussion at the Feb. 20 commission meeting.

Swartzmiller said a policy for minors living in unincorporated parts of the county should be uniform with any curfews imposed by incorporated cities in Hancock County – Chester, New Cumberland and Weirton.