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Downtown

Curfew in the 24-hour capital: Is Las Vegas really for loiterers?

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Bed time: Are you kids old enough to be Downtown after 9 p.m.?
Photo: Sam Morris

Las Vegas cops who caught kids violating city curfew used to march them to the nearest 7-Eleven for an awkward pay-phone call. Metro officers might still go that route (albeit with much cooler phones), but spokesman Bill Cassell says it was a different world when he patrolled the streets in the mid-’80s.

“I guarantee, about the third time you called the same father, you had a pretty good idea that there was not gonna be a fourth time,” he says, chuckling.

The city was smaller then, and Fremont Street was shadier. Downtown didn’t attract the same crowds, and until last week, it didn’t inspire the Strip’s stringent 9 p.m. curfew (the city’s is 10 p.m.) on weekends and holidays for kids younger than 18. Cassell says it’s a natural part of the Downtown renaissance. As the area gets more successful and fun, it draws more people and therefore more potential offenders, whether they’re adults brawling outside a bar or teens loitering past their city-imposed bedtime. “Are we out there with a little bit heavier presence? Absolutely,” Cassell says of Metro’s beefed-up patrol Downtown. “Is it because of the curfew? No.”

Nevertheless, Cassell says that if officers see someone who appears to be “obviously underage,” or if they discover someone is underage in the process of investigating a disturbance, they have the curfew ordinance “as a tool.” Issuing citations is at their discretion, and a district court judge decides whether to impose the maximum $300 fine or another means of remuneration.

It got me thinking about my 17-year-old self, growing up in Boise, Idaho. Main Street was the place. Car clubs would park, and the bar corridor would fill with rowdy college kids, music and food carts. Sometimes my friends and I sat on the sidewalk and tried to look cool. But most of the time, we whiled away the wee hours at a 24-hour diner called Shari’s over bad coffee and nerd commentary. I don’t know if I broke any city rules. It never occurred to me, because as long as I was home by 1 a.m., my parents’ law was satisfied.

Cassell says Metro is counting on parents to help enforce the new curfew. It refers to amending “the city’s public peace, morals and welfare regulations.” That’s pretty heavy language for a bunch of kids hanging out on Fremont. Is it in their best interest to stay out of areas where booze is flowing and a “criminal element” might be congregating? Sure, but I see the allure. Teenagers want to be where the action is, where the community is. Downtown is the place. That’s why so many adults “loiter” after dark. The word means to linger when you don’t have a particular reason, and if that’s against the rules, the entire concept of Fremont Street should get marched to the pay phone.

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Erin Ryan

Erin got her first newspaper job in 2002 thanks to a campfire story about Bigfoot. In her award-winning work for ...

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