Hardeeville's interim police chief says kids are out at night causing trouble, and he wants a stricter curfew to prevent crime.
The city has a curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. for anyone 17 or younger, but interim Police Chief Sam Woodward says kids need to be inside by 9 p.m., or accompanied by a guardian if they're out.
"My main concern is kids wandering all over town at all hours of night, where they've got no business to be," Woodward said.
He points to a series of 15 car thefts in Beaufort and Jasper counties between March and June that might have been prevented with a tighter curfew. He plans to discuss updating the ordinance with city staff, council members and residents.
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Hardeeville's city-wide, daily curfew has been in effect for 18 years and requires children out between midnight and 5 a.m. to be with a parent or guardian unless they are on an emergency errand, working or attending an event.
If police find a minor in violation of the law, officers tell them to go home. Police also notify the parents or guardian.
After a warning, that adult would be fined up to $200 for each offense.
However, no one has been cited under the law recently, Woodward said.
Changing the rule would involve public meetings and a City Council vote. Woodward said starting that process is weeks or months away.
Mayor Bronco Bostick said he would support the change.
Bostick, the only member of council who resides in downtown Hardeeville, said he has noticed many kids outside after dark, especially in the summer.
"I think some are bored, and some are just trying to find their own activities," he said. "When they find something, it's not always the right thing, and that might lead to trouble."
When the city's curfew took effect, it dramatically reduced crime, Bostick said, but it has done less over time to deter juveniles from getting into trouble.
"We really need to get back to that," he said.
However, some Hardeeville residents said a 9 p.m. curfew is too strict, particularly on weekends.
"We should have some freedom," said Macy Keiffer, 15, who would prefer a 10 p.m. curfew.
Her grandmother, Tillie Keiffer, co-owner of Coastal Florist and Consignment, said even an 11 p.m. curfew may be appropriate on weekends, as long as the city also provides more activities to keep kids out of trouble.
Tillie Keiffer said she remembers staying out even later when she was young.
"But times were different then."
THEFT INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
Woodward also wants to see more residents watching the streets for strange cars and people.
His department is currently helping create a neighborhood watch. While the group is still getting off the ground, Woodward hopes it might help police identify suspects in the rash of car thefts and break-ins, in which only two people have been arrested.
Donald Chaneyfield of Hardeeville, 17 at the time of his arrest June 3, was charged with two counts of breaking into a motor vehicle and remains in the Jasper County Detention Center on a $75,000 bond, according to court records.
Deveon Chaneyfield, 18, of Ridgeland -- Woodward has said it's not clear how the two suspects are related -- was charged June 12 with one count of possession of a stolen vehicle and released from jail on a $2,000 bond, records show.
Neither suspect has cooperated, but Woodward hopes forensic evidence will point to more suspects.
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.