Curfew divides Knightdale

Curfew divides Knightdale

Staff WriterJuly 8, 2005 

A local crackdown on unruly teenagers in Knightdale seems to be working, but not everyone is happy with the town's strategy.

One Knightdale parent, Mark Pitzel, 47, compares the town's leaders to the bumbling police deputy Barney Fife from "The Andy Griffith Show."

"Barney didn't recognize the real criminals," Pitzel said, "and the Town Council is doing the same dang thing."

Pitzel became even more embarrassed for his hometown Tuesday after it adopted an anti-graffiti ordinance that, among other things, prohibits local merchants from selling spray paint to juveniles.

"We don't have to act like a bunch of hayseeds," said Pitzel, who lives in Planters Walk subdivision.

But Pitzel's attempts to get officials to reconsider their aggressive strategy have gone nowhere, largely because most Knightdale residents support the town's actions, which started with imposing a mandatory 9 p.m. curfew on people younger than 18.

"It's working very, very well," Allesha McKoy, president of the Timber Ridge Homeowners Association, said of the curfew. Residents of Timber Ridge packed Town Council meetings earlier this year urging town officials to do something about noisy teens in their neighborhood.

McKoy said most kids abide by the curfew and that loitering teens are no longer a problem in Timber Ridge. She also supports the anti-graffiti ordinance.

"There's no reason for a teenager to have some kind of spray paint," she said.

Even Pitzel, a father of three boys, said the curfew is having its intended effect, but he said that in the process it has made typical teenage behavior seem inherently suspicious.

On Wednesday afternoon, several teens were hanging out in front of the Harper Park community building. The town is offering a free summer camp for 14- to 17-year-olds at the building.

Audrianna Johnson, 16, said she and her friends adhere to the curfew and that it has cut down the amount of graffiti in the subdivision where she lives.

Johnson said it's unfair that Knightdale has a 9 p.m. curfew but Raleigh, Zebulon and other nearby towns do not. She also said gang members, the supposed reason for the curfew, are unlikely to be intimidated by the ordinance.

"The curfew's not going to do anything about it," Johnson said of criminal gang activity. "[Gang members] are not going to listen to adults."

Knightdale police have so far issued just a handful of warnings to parents of children who were out after 9 p.m.

Town Attorney Clyde Holt said a few residents have expressed concern that the 9 p.m. curfew, even on weekends, is too restrictive. Holt said he and the town's police chief will present a report to the Town Council in September addressing the ordinance's effectiveness and whether it should be revised.

As for Pitzel, he has written to state politicians, the attorney general, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Libertarian Party decrying what he sees as an abuse of power by the Knightdale Town Council. He said he's received responses from the ACLU and the Libertarian Party.

The ACLU plans to hold a community forum in Knightdale on July 28 to discuss Knightdale's curfew and anti-graffiti ordinances. Staff Attorney Shelagh Kenney said the ACLU is looking into whether the town's new ordinances are constitutional, but she said the organization first wants to discuss the issue with the community.

Pitzel said that unless someone takes legal action against the town, the ordinances are unlikely to go away. He said suing the town isn't really an option for him, since he would be paying his legal costs while having his tax dollars support Knightdale's defense of the suit.

"It's waste of money to fight something that is so wrong from the get-go," he said.

Staff writer David Bracken can be reached at 829-4548 or dbracken@newsobserver.com.

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