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A Curfew Won't Solve Bend's Leadership Vacuum 

Bend City Council began a discussion around the possibility of implementing a 10 pm curfew in the city

This week, the Bend City Council began a discussion around the possibility of implementing a 10 pm curfew in the city, in an effort to avoid the inevitable breaches of social distancing protocols that can happen when people are drinking alcohol and socializing late into the night. The idea of a curfew is only in the discussion phase right now, and, following exploration of the issue by City staff, would likely not go into place for several more weeks, if at all.

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The discussion of a curfew comes after owners of some local bars and restaurants asked city leaders for more help in enforcing social distancing requirements. As our news story in this week's issue details, Deschutes County bars and restaurants got the "distinction" this month of having the highest number of businesses in the state reported to the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health agency by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. In other words, people in Deschutes County appear to be the least likely to abide by mask-wearing and social distancing requirements when out at bars, compared to other places in the state. As a result, the businesses may have to face hefty fines.

This is a tough situation, but a curfew is not the way to solve it. Strong City leadership is.

Placing a blanket curfew over the entire city for the bad choices of some downtown revelers sets the City up to unfairly target those who are contributing nothing to the problem—and what's more, could introduce more profiling of people that the current Black Lives Matter protests are working to end.

If a curfew were to be implemented, Bend Police officers would be charged with enforcing it and issuing fines to the people not complying with mask-wearing and social distancing orders. Throughout the pandemic, local law enforcement officers have been reluctant to do any type of enforcement around pandemic guidelines. What's to say that they would enforce a curfew now? As we pointed out in our June 18 editorial, Bend Police's use of force on Black men was four times higher than the overall Black population in 2019—evidence that racial profiling can exist, even in little ol' Bend. As that pertains to a curfew, would a Latino gas station employee going home from work late at night be fined, while a white tourist is given a "warning?"

The Bend City Council—and Bend Mayor Sally Russell—have had many chances to take a strong leadership role and to set the tone around pandemic safety. They had an opportunity to ban short-term rentals in the spring, as the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners did, and chose not to—even while we know that tourists are a big contingent of the revelers who now flaunt social distancing requirements downtown. What's more, tourists, more than locals trying to go back and forth from their jobs, have far more potential to bring the virus here and spread it.

Our City leaders have thus far gone the "Bend nice" route as it pertains to creating guidelines trying to avoid conflict. Their pithy "suggestion" that tourists stay away from Bend has done nothing but create confusion regarding how businesses are supposed to operate. Short-term rental numbers are about as high as they have always been. So are usage numbers on the Deschutes River. If our community is going to turn away revenue and close businesses, then it needs to be around clear policy rather than friendly suggestions.

Implementing a curfew now does nothing to address the root of the problem, but instead spins off to some easy "moral" target for the win. The advent of a curfew places the burden of enforcement, and the economic fallout from that decision, on the backs of business owners and their employees—and on the local police who already face serious scrutiny.

If the Bend City Council truly wants to address the problem of people flaunting social distancing and mask wearing, they should take some cues from the mayors of cities such as Chicago or Washington, D.C., or the mayors of smaller cities in Italy. Take every opportunity to get in front of the public, stop tip-toeing around and trying to be Bend nice, and tell people in no uncertain terms what our regulations require. A curfew is only going to hurt the low-income workers and business owners who are already burdened by new and changing rules.

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