PATERSON, N.J. – Curfews might not be just for kids anymore in one northern New Jersey city.
Seeking to curb violence after a spate of deadly summer shootings, Paterson officials are considering an unusual ordinance that would prevent people of all ages from gathering outside in public late at night.
The measure could be the nation's first citywide, non-emergency curfew to include adults, several experts said.
"We're trying to think outside the box," said Mayor Jose Torres. "This was triggered predominantly by fear among city residents over the shootings that have been occurring this summer."
A 29-year-old Paterson man was gunned down in his car last week in the latest chapter of a tit-for-tat battle between rival groups, according to police who decline to describe them as gangs. The battle has generated community fear, even though overall shootings and violence remain low by historical standards.
Paterson, New Jersey's third-largest city at 147,000 people, has had six homicides and 30 shootings this year, according to city data. That compares with 13 homicides and 37 shootings for the same period of 2008.
The curfew would last for two months and bar people from loitering outside from midnight to 7 a.m. Violators would face up to a $2,000 fine and 90 days in jail. It would not apply to people in transit.
The measure was initially scheduled for consideration by the City Council on Monday, then Tuesday, and is now slated for Sept. 1. If the measure is approved, a second vote and a public hearing would still be needed before it goes into effect.
Legal challenges are a possibility, and Torres attributed the voting delays to the need to word the ordinance just right.
The American Civil Liberties Union has already successfully defeated several juvenile curfews in New Jersey courts, said Ed Barocas, legal director of the state ACLU. Adult curfews are usually associated with the imposition of martial law, which typically is restricted to emergencies, wartime or military occupation, according to the ACLU.
"An adult curfew is unprecedented in our state," Barocas said.
"It's just completely unheard of," said Jon Shane, a professor of policing administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "Not to mention being generally unconstitutional."
As unpalatable as the measure is among legal scholars, some Paterson residents are willing to consider anything that diminishes the violence.
Mohamed El Filali, a 44-year-old Paterson resident, said he fears the proposal will only drive illegal activity indoors.
"If it curtails crime I don't have an issue with it," said El Filali, outreach director for the Islamic Center of Passaic County. "It's a bold and ambitious gesture."
DaShaun "Jiwe" Morris, who describes himself as an inactive member of the Bloods street gang, said the ordinance is problematic because it clearly targets illegal gang activity and depends on the ability of police to distinguish between gang members and neighborhood residents sporting the same hairstyles and fashions.
"They're going to get a lot of the wrong people," said the 28-year-old Morris, who lives in nearby Newark. "It's an invitation to racial profiling."
New Orleans, New York City and Jersey City are among cities that have previously imposed curfews in designated areas, such as parks, but those bans were not citywide.