Helena-West Helena postponing a 24-hour curfew plan

Helena-West Helena Police

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) — An eastern Arkansas city is shelving a plan to establish a 24-hour curfew in high-crime neighborhoods that sought to address the recent increase in violent crime in the historic city on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Helena-West Helena officials have discussed instituting the measure after three homicides in two days last month.

Police Chief James Smith said at the time he planned to put the issue on the City Council agenda at a meeting on Tuesday. But the city is now delaying a decision, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“It’s still on the table,” Mayor Kevin Smith said Tuesday. “If we decide to do it, we’ll change a few things up. There were some aspects of the earlier curfew that were constitutionally suspect. I believe we can change it up enough that it won’t be skirting the Constitution.”

Mayor Smith added that one problem with implementing such a plan is the shortage of facilities for holding people who get arrested due to increased police activity.

“We’re building a jail, but it’s not open yet,” he said. “And any adults we arrest will have to be placed somewhere but we just don’t have the money.”

The city already has a curfew for young people in place that requires those under the age of 18 to be accompanied by an adult 21 years old or older if they are out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Mayor Smith said he and the police chief agreed they do not need to implement a stricter type of curfew yet. Instead, he said, the city can focus on high-crime areas using current laws, keep having law enforcement agencies other than local police help, and increase officer training.

The curfew would be implemented in neighborhoods designated as “saturation zones,” Chief Smith said.

“When we had these saturation zones in 2008, the ACLU sued the city and we backed down,” he said.

The question has now been put before the Arkansas Municipal League to decide the constitutionality of such a measure, he added.

Holly Dickson, interim director of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization is intently watching the curfew situation as it develops.

“A 24-hour curfew would effectively put everyone under house arrest,” Dickson said. “It’s like declaring martial law and that’s unacceptable.”

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