A group of more than a dozen residents of Toms River’s North Beaches, primarily Normandy Beach, came to the township council meeting Wednesday night to lobby for elected officials to adopt a curfew following what was described as a raucous start to the summer.
According to the residents, over the Memorial Day holiday weekend and last weekend, mass groups of young people gathered by the hundreds on several streets – primarily near the ocean – and proceeded to drink alcohol, intentionally block streets without moving out of the way of traffic, and leave a large amount of refuse behind. The incidents, the residents said, occurred in numerous sections of the barrier island, but especially in Normandy Beach. In that neighborhood – which is split between Toms River and Brick Township – large gatherings of 200 to 300 people were noted on Ocean Terrace between 3rd and 6th avenues by about 11:30 p.m.
“They were blocking cars, trying to pull down street signs,” said Ocean Terrace resident Michael Romeo, adding that his wife was nervous about their home during late at night over the weekend. “It was just the start of another episode of these kids congregating in the hundreds, causing damage, vandalizing and drinking.”
Additional incidents were reported in Ocean Beach, Ortley Beach and some other neighborhoods.
For the last two summer seasons, Toms River officials adopted a juvenile curfew in its barrier island sections following similar mass gatherings of teens during the summer. In the past, the activity was primarily focused near the Wawa store in Chadwick Beach, but residents say this year, the gatherings have spread to various neighborhoods from Normandy Beach to Ortley Beach. The curfew that had been in effect the last two summers has expired since it had been linked with coronavirus pandemic executive orders from the governor. Township officials say they are considering their legal options moving forward now that pandemic-related orders have been lifted.
“The curfew was tied to the governor’s executive order on Covid. That’s how we were able to do it,” said Council President Kevin Geoghegan. “It needs to be addressed, I agree. It all works until you bring little Johnny home to his parents and they say, ‘why are you picking on my kid?'”
Several residents were concerned about the response time of police officers when they called 911, which Geoghegan said has been addressed with the police chief.
The gatherings caught the attention to numerous homeowners associations, most prominently the Normandy Beach Improvement Association.
Joseph Giordano, president of the NBIA, backed the call for a curfew to be put in place.
“We hear it every weekend,” he said. “We know some of the kids are local, but people come from all over. The way it’s set up, it’s an attraction for them. We need additional tools to address the crowds. We’re not looking for something at 8:30 p.m., we know the kids want to enjoy themselves, but 11 o’clock is getting out of control.”
Normandy Shores resident Wayne McCaughey said residents were sympathetic to the fact that new laws limit the extent to which police officers can question teens, notify their parents about illicit behavior such as underage drinking, or make an arrest, but pleaded for more enforcement. In certain cases in New Jersey, an officer can be charged criminally with a civil rights violation if they do not follow attorney general guidelines on dealing with juveniles without involving their parents or legal action.
“I understand that the police have their hands tied with the drinking and such, but my wife and I are picking up a tremendous amount of glass, bottles and cans,” McCaughey said. “The majority of them are beer, but I don’t care if it’s soda.”
Other residents described public urination in addition to the litter, and feared the drinking could lead to a teen being hurt or even falling victim to a crime themselves.
“It was scary, it really was,” said another resident. “I feel like our town was being trashed.”
Councilman Justin Lamb, whose ward includes the barrier island, said the matter has been discussed among officials.
“Mayor Hill was clear that the red line date is at the end of June, and by then we’ll have something in place,” Lamb said.
Geoghegan, for his part, agreed that action must be taken, but stopped short of endorsing a full seasonal curfew. The same considerations were reviewed before the pandemic-era curfews were put into place the last two summers.
“There were quite a few discussions even then – do we do a curfew for the whole town or just the beach?” he said. “Or do we then just move the problem to your neighbor’s backyard? It’s frustrating.”
Officials said they would continue to review the matter and recommend a solution, though no immediate action was taken at the council meeting.