The recently-passed Independence Day weekend represented a return to normal for many New Jerseyans, however some towns canceled their fireworks displays, expressing public concern following a small riot that broke out in Long Branch two weeks ago and a promise from the promoter of that event to stage more like it.
Promoters of unsanctioned public gatherings, most recently linked to a number of hip-hop themed social media pages, have been responsible for several incidents that have led to property damage and the “trashing” of beach towns, according to officials. Last weekend’s “pop-up” event had been promoted online as an extension of the Long Branch event – in which cars were destroyed and workers had to shelter in businesses until the scene was cleared by police – that would be held in Point Pleasant Beach. At the last minute, word went out on social media that the party would be moved to White Avenue in Lavallette. There was no indication as to how or why this particular street was chosen, but borough police and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office had been monitoring social media activity and were ready to encounter a large group of people gathering at once.
While the party did not draw the hundreds – or thousands – that past “pop-ups” have attracted, the approximately 80 individuals who came to Lavallette did cause some minor disturbances in the neighborhood.
“The people up there had just spent some of their own money to put landscaping in the area, and that was trampled,” said Borough Administrator Robert Brice. “Even though nothing serious happened, it was a pretty big event.”
Brice said litter had piled up in the street and trash cans were overflowing by the time the crowd left. The sudden gathering also proved worrisome to neighbors, especially after the recent Long Branch incident and last year’s incident in Point Pleasant Beach.
Mayor Walter LaCicero, a retired borough police officer, said a time-tested strategy was utilized to ensure the crowd did not turn rowdy.
“The approach was one we’re familiar with – just stay there and hang out with everyone,” he said. “The cop will be your best friend for the day.”
Law enforcement at the state, county and local levels had already prepared to surge manpower into a particular town if such a party developed in order to prevent a repeat of the Long Branch incident. Officials said Lavallette officers had been notified that they could be relied-upon to provide mutual aid to a neighboring community. Agencies are beginning to better track digital activity and plan their response to events that can draw large numbers of people to a small area in a short period of time.
“The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is all over it to the extent that they are even notifying people out-of-county at this time,” Brice said.