Avalon has a midnight curfew for kids younger than 18. There are exceptions for jobs, school functions, family emergencies and a few other situations. But other than that, juveniles unaccompanied by an adult cannot be in public places between midnight and 6 a.m.

Police Chief William McCormick - citing roving packs of unruly teenagers on bicycles and an increase in vandalism - wants to change the curfew to 10 p.m.

We sympathize - to a point. McCormick sounds like a reasonable guy just trying to do his job. His officers handed out warnings earlier this summer. He says the kids are riding three and four abreast in the middle of the street, with no helmets and lights and often hang out in front of the bars on Dune Drive. They are also - surprise - not particularly courteous or polite.

Not surprisingly, the warnings didn't work. Avalon police then began writing tickets for violations of bicycle-safety laws - again a more or less reasonable approach.

But we can't endorse the idea of changing the curfew to a rather draconian 10 p.m. In fact, we can't endorse curfews at all.

Invariably, when curfews are challenged in court, the towns lose. Why? Well, for the same reason McCormick wants to extend Avalon's curfew. These packs of teenagers are mostly not breaking any law (with the exception of almost universally ignored bicycle-safety rules). And what curfews do, according to an Appellate Division ruling invalidating West New York's curfew in 2004, is "criminalize the innocent activities" of teenagers.

Again - we sympathize with McCormick and Avalon's plight. But unless these youths are committing vandalism or some other actual crime, there really isn't a legal mechanism for telling teenagers that large groups of them can't ride their bikes at night.

Sure, it would be nice if the kids were more considerate - and more mindful of the danger of riding bikes on dark streets around bars where people have been drinking.

But an earlier curfew is not the answer. Curfews are never the answer. The Appellate Division got it right - they are a selectively enforced mechanism for bringing a criminal charge against young people who aren't doing anything wrong.

We don't think that's McCormick's intent. But it's the inevitable outcome of curfew laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently representing a 17-year-old Wanaque girl who walked to the Burger King directly across the street from her home to buy a milkshake at 11 p.m. and was issued a citation for a curfew violation.

Avalon may or may not be enforcing its curfew more reasonably. But the fact remains, curfew laws invite such abuses. They're a bad idea.

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