(Reuters) - Baltimore, faced with high crime rates, is set to impose one of the strictest U.S. curfews for young people, with the mayor facing residents on Tuesday to explain the new rules.
The measure that takes effect on Aug. 8 in the city that is the setting of such gritty crime dramas as "The Wire," has drawn fire from rank-and-file police and civil liberty advocates who contend the law will turn children into criminals.
Backers of the law, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, say it will not criminalize children, but will take them off the street and put them and their families in touch with social services agencies.
"If you want to have your kid run amok 24 hours a day, go live out on a farm somewhere. This is a city and we are going to make sure that we keep our kids safe,” Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, said in May.
Rawlings-Blake is holding a meeting on Tuesday night at the University of Baltimore to answer questions from residents about the law.
The curfew law will make it a violation for a youth under 14 to be outside the home after 9 p.m. year-round. Those from 14 to 16 would be banned from being outside on school nights after 10 p.m. and on other nights after 11 p.m.
Police could take violators to a curfew center. Their parents would have to take city-approved counseling classes or face a $500 fine, up from the previous $300.
Children younger than 17 can now stay out until 11 on weeknights and until midnight on weekends.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, who sponsored the bill, said the great majority of his constituents backed the new curfew.
"Most people say: 'There's no legitimate reason for children to be out by themselves at night.'"
FBI statistics for 2012 show Baltimore, which has about 625,000 people, had one of the highest rates of violent crime of any U.S. city, with 218 murders.
But there are signs that crime is starting to fall. The mayor's office said homicides for the year totaled 116, down 14 percent from the same period last year, and violent crime had fallen 15 percent.
The American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, argue the tougher curfew will be ineffective and burdens police officers who are given few guidelines about how to enforce it.
The ACLU of Maryland said in a statement that increased contact with police was more likely to entangle young people in the criminal justice system.
Baltimore is among many U.S. cities with curfews. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in 1997 that 80 percent of 347 cities surveyed had nighttime youth curfews.
Washington, which is 40 miles from Baltimore, bars people under 17 from being out from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
A 2011 University of California-Berkeley analysis of FBI data showed arrests of youths affected by curfew restrictions fell 15 percent in the first year and about 10 percent in following years.
Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney