The new judge in Juvenile Court on Monday said little to nothing is currently being done on Chattanooga youth curfews or truancy, but he aims to spark some action.
He said curfew enforcement "is non-existant," and he said the situation is about the same on dealing with truancy.
Rob Philyaw told members of the Pachyderm Club that Chattanooga has a poor curfew law and it is not enforced. He said after there were issues about youths roaming Coolidge Park at late hours, a special area was set up in North Chattanooga to take those caught for curfew violations. He said the center closed because no one was ever brought there.
Judge Philyaw said virtually nothing is being done here about dealing with the truancy issue, except for the filing of some cases in May - when school is about over. He said the number of truancy cases brought to the court last year from Howard High School was zero.
He said, "This is not about getting little Johnny to bed on time. It's about the safety of these kids and the safety of the community."
Judge Philyaw said he found that the current city curfew ordinance was so inadequate that he took part in an effort to rewrite it. He said it currently is one paragraph and the proposed version is a page and a half. He said he has presented the draft to Mayor Andy Berke.
The speaker said the current curfew ordinance "was lacking a lot," and the rewrite "is a good draft for the mayor and City Council to consider."
He said he has identified a section of the Juvenile Court site on East Third Street where curfew violators could possibly be taken.
He said when underage kids are out in groups in the early hours of the morning they are often in danger themselves or may be a threat to endanger others.
The judge, who replaced Suzanne Bailey when she retired, said older Chattanooga gang members with felony records often utilize very young kids to wield weapons for them. He said they do not want to be caught themselves with the guns.
He said the court is taking several initiatives to deal with curfew and truancy issues and is being aided by prosecutor Boyd Patterson, the former gang task force leader who has been assigned by District Attorney Bill Cox mainly to Juvenile Court.
On whether action can be taken against parents of curfew violators and truants, he said options are limited, but they may be found in contempt of court.
He said he understands why officers who have to deal with very serious crimes are reluctant to spend time on curfew violations, but he indicated he will seek more help from the police. He also said he plans to meet with School Supt. Rick Smith on dealing with the truancy problem.
Judge Philyaw said the Juvenile Detention Center on Third Street is designed to hold 25 youthful offenders, but had 34 last Thursday. He said those included 13 who had guns, two charged with carjacking, three accused of aggravated robbery and three (ages 12, 13 and 16) charged with attempted first-degree murder.
He said they may be commiting adult crimes, "but I see kids when I look in their faces."