Camden curfew plan could be in for court challenge

    Camden City Council is considering a curfew that would shutter businesses from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the week and midnight to 6 a.m. on weekends.

    Supporters say all-night establishments invite robberies, prostitution and drugs. But some business owners say the main effect of a curfew will be to harm their bottom lines.

    The council may vote on the plan next week.

    Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who says the curfew could help improve public safety, said she’s eager to sign it into law. She says residents have spoken out in favor of the curfew for many years.

    Not Frank Fulbrook.

    “The business curfew ordinance is an idea that never seems to die. They tried it in 1998 and we stopped it in court and they tried it again in 2006 and just before the trial in 2007 they rescinded it and we were ready to go to trial to defeat it.” Fulbrook said. “So they pulled the plug on it. And now, here we are for the third time in 2011.”

    Fulbrook, a longtime Camden activist, said he and a group of business owners are ready to sue if the city passes the curfew. He says many of the businesses are minority-owned and the curfew amounts to discrimination.

    A question of enforcement

    Camden resident Betty Battle-Davis, a block captain, supports a curfew at certain stores.

    “In the bad areas, where you’re having problems at, no they shouldn’t be open. I think the curfew is excellent, but the thing about it is, are they going to enforce it? Are the police going to enforce it?” Battle-Davis said.

    The city has rehired about half of the more than 150 police officers it laid off earlier this year.

    Redd could not be reached for comment.

    Fulbrook said he doubts the curfew will get to the heart of the city’s crime problem.

    “It’s intellectual laziness,” he said. “Rather than fight real crime–the 150 open-air drug markets that will continue to operate if this ordinance takes effect–they’re scapegoating legitimate businesses because a handful of citizens complained about businesses being open late at night.”

    Fulbrook said if the curfew goes into effect, a lot of Camden businesses will close for good.

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