Laurel officials stop emergency curfew at public housing complex

By Tony E. Windsor

During a recent Laurel Mayor and Council meeting, the town's police chief said that since the town implemented an emergency curfew at a local public housing complex there have been almost 60 percent less complaints of criminal activities. During the Monday, Sept. 17, Laurel Mayor and Counci meeting, Police Chief Jamie Wilson was asked by Laurel Councilman Donald Phillips if he could give an update on the status of criminal activities at the Carvel Gardens housing complex since the curfew was implemented in February.

Happy with the report of reduced violence and late night loitering at the complex, one councilmember asked if the curfew could be extended. The answer came quickly as Mayor Shwed responded "No." The Mayor was referring to the input from the town's attorney as well as the Delaware Department of Justice both who at the time of supporting a curfew cautioned the town that this was to be a "temporary measure."

"We were told at the start that making this curfew anything but temporary would dilute the effects of emergency power," he said. "We knew going into this that this was an action taken to help bring things under control at Carvel Gardens and address the violence that was occurring. We must now work with the apartment complex management to find ways to develop guidelines that the police can enforce."

Chief Wilson said this has been less than successful and while the complex management is very cooperative and wants to do what is right, the biggest challenge is the fact that lion's share of problems at the complex was not being perpetrated by the residents. In May the effects of the emergency curfew were reviewed by the town council and it was decided to extend the curfew through summer.

At that time, Wilson said he felt very confident about the good that the curfew has done, but cautioned the Mayor and Council about lifting the ordinance too soon. "We have been very pleased with the many positive things that we have heard from the Carvel Garden's residents and management, as well as those business people and residents who live in the area. But, I do not feel we are done out there. We owe it to the residents of Carvel Gardens who deserve a good night's sleep just as much as anyone else in Laurel. I hate to see us pull out too early and things go back to the way they were prior to February."

In May, Wilson explained that the curfew only affected non-residents who had historically congregated in the parking lot of the apartment complex. Telling the council that the curfew was extremely successful, he supported the extension of the emergency measure through the summer months which he said typically produced higher rates of criminal activities. "It was getting really bad out there," he said. "Everyone is aware that there were shootings and stabbings and gang activities taking place. But, the majority of this criminal activity was being done by people who are not residents of Carvel Gardens. It was not unusual for there to be 100 to 150 people congregating in the parking lot after some of the local bars closed down. The Carvel Gardens' parking lot started to become the location for after parties."

During the Sept. 17, meeting Wilson said there have yet to be any concrete guidelines established that he feels will accomplish what the curfew was able to do. "Carvel Gardens, like the other public housing complexes have HUD guidelines that they have been enforcing for years," he said. "But, again, this relates to residents of the complex and has little impact on our ability to control the outside influences that congregate late at night and create the problems." Wilson said his department would continue to work with the Carvel Gardens management team to develop opportunities to maintain the positive trend of reduced crime at the complex.

Carvel Gardens has been undergoing a multi-million dollar project to renovate the apartment complex, including installing security cameras and addressing structural opportunities that can make for a safer environment.

The action taken last February by the Laurel Mayor and Council to impose an emergency curfew at Carvel Gardens was authorized through the town's "Emergency Preparedness" section of the municipal code. The town and police department were adamant about making sure it was understood that the curfew is only meant for non-residents and there was no intention to create inconvenience for the residents of Carvel Gardens.

In May the town council agreed unanimously to extend the emergency curfew at Carvel Gardens through Monday, September 17. However, as of Sept. 4, Wilson said the curfew was terminated.

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